Harbaugh’s Chargers stay focused, draft OL Alt

The Sporting Tribune's Fernando Ramirez on why Jim Harbaugh and Co. stayed true to their vision and took an offensive lineman.

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Since the Chargers hired Jim Harbaugh, his message has been clear: They want to have the best offensive line in the NFL. They want to protect quarterback Justin Herbert and run the football.

It wasn’t a surprise that the first draft pick of the Harbaugh era was Joe Alt, an offensive tackle from Notre Dame.

Harbaugh put priority on the position at the last month’s owners meeting.

“The offensive line to me is important,” Harbaugh said. “If I asked you the question like, ‘What position group depends on no other position group to be good, but every other position group depends on them to be good. What position group is that?’. Offensive line.”

Alt was a three-year starter at Notre Dame and played at left tackle for all 2,178 snaps of his collegiate career.

So, the question is, where is he going to play?

“Whatever the coaches want, I’m happy to do,” Alt said. “Excited to go and get better at where position that means and just get ready to get back to work.”

The transition from left tackle to right has been a difficult one for many players in the past. The Buccaneers took Tristan Wirfs in 2021, and he made the move. This is what he told the AP about the transition:

“You have so many reps on one side and it’s muscle memory but then all of sudden you have do everything the other way and it feels weird,” Wirfs said. “The more you do it, the more comfortable you get. But it does suck off the rip. You feel very awkward and it just takes some getting used to. It’s easy to get very frustrated with yourself because you had success on this side. 

He made first-team All-Pro at right tackle in 2021 and two Pro Bowls before moving back to left tackle. Alt is confident he can make the move.

“I don’t think that it would be a huge adjustment for me,” Alt said. “I’ve practiced it during this combine prep, preparing to play on the right side.

“I think it’s something that I would be able to do, if the coaches would like.”

The Chargers have Rashawn Slater, whom they drafted in the first round of 2021. He has been their left tackle. So, what is his position now?

“He’s locked in as the left tackle,” Harbaugh said. “No debate was needed for that. We love him.”

Another question from the Alt selection was what this means for Trey Pipkins, who has been the team’s right tackle since 2022.

“Those things are to-be-determined,” Harbaugh said. “You can count on us playing our best five offensive linemen.”

This pick makes sense for two reasons: 1.) It is no secret that Harbaugh wants to run the football; and 2.) Herbert has been pressured consistently since being drafted in 2020. 

Their offensive line hasn’t been consistent or one of the best in the league since the days of LaDainian Tomlinson. They are only four years removed from having Sam Tevi at left tackle, Dan Feeney at left guard, Mike Pouncey at center, Trai Turner at right guard and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle as their opening-day offensive line.

Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz have a vision for this offense.

“I know the questions are going to come up and you’re going to say, ‘Well, what about a weapon?’ Offensive linemen, we look at as weapons,” Harbaugh said. “That group, when we talk about attacking on offense, offensive line is the tip of the spear.”

The team’s moves in free agency reflected its vision of signing running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards and blocking tight ends Will Dissly and Hayden Hurst. 

This offense is about protecting the quarterback and running the football. 

The thought process, though, has to be about who Herbert is supposed to throw to. They have four receivers on the roster.

“Just, the way your questions are going, let’s not bet against [WR] Quentin Johnston, Josh Palmer, [Derius] D.D. [Davis] and Simi [Fehoko],” Harbaugh said. “There will be more.”

That final part is key from Harbaugh: “There will be more.” The draft isn’t over. They still have eight picks unless they trade up or down to make receiver selections. Two of the best receivers in the draft last year were 5th-round selection Puka Nacua and 3rd-round pick Tank Dell.

The Chargers’ positive is that not many receivers were taken in the first round. There will be plenty of available receivers, such as Ladd McConkey, Adonai Mitchell, Keon Coleman and Troy Franklin.

As far as the selection of Alt, even Jim’s brother, John, texted him saying, “That’s who I would have taken.” Loving the offensive line is in the Harbaugh blood.

Jim shares his brother’s sentiments even though he hasn’t texted him back.

“I have total confidence and trust that we got it right,” Harbaugh said. “You have to go make it right. I believe that we have a great partner in doing that in Joe Alt.”