Jim Harbaugh made massive culture, practice changes at Los Angeles Chargers OTAs

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh was hired to completely change the culture that the previous regime created. With Chargers OTAs underway, Harbaugh and the Chargers coaching staff are clearly putting those modifications into effect quickly.

With reporters in attendance for the team’s first practices under Harbaugh with the entire roster participating, there were plenty of takeaways coming out of the session. Beyond some early OTA standouts and a noticeable increase in passing attempts during drills, cultural and practice environment adjustments were also noticed.

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Appearing on NFL Network, reporter Bridget Condon noted some of the changes she saw at Chargers OTAs under Harbaugh in comparison to the Brandon Staley regime. Among them, Harbaugh cut out the music being played and the team is emphasizing conditioning.

“There was no music. In every other Chargers practice that I’ve been to before without Jim Harbaugh, they played a lot of music. So that’s an interesting note. … [There was an] emphasis on conditioning. The last 10 minutes of practice we watched them do sled pulls. They were doing medicine ball carries.”

NFL Network’s Bridget Condon on her observations from Los Angeles Chargers OTAs

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The focus on improving the team’s conditioning immediately comes as no surprise. When Harbaugh overhauled the Chargers coaching staff following his arrival, he pulled in some of the top player performance specialists in football.

Los Angeles now has Ben Herbert, formerly the assistant head coach and director of strength and conditioning at Michigan, as the new executive director of player performance. The Chargers coaching staff also features head strength and conditioning coach Devin Woodhouse, director of performance analytics and performance analyst Lincoln DeWolf and head of strength and conditioning coach Jonathan Brooks.

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Cutting out music during practice isn’t an uncommon practice for coaches looking to change the culture of a team and set a new standard for the importance of focusing on football. However, there is another notable difference between Staley and Harbaugh’s approach to OTAs.

Chargers’ reporter Daniel Popper of The Athletic wrote in his observations from practice that Harbaugh had the team run through multiple 11-on-11 drills during OTAs, which is very different than how Staley did things.

“Under previous coach Brandon Staley, the Chargers did not conduct 11-on-11 drills during OTAs. The team drills were limited to seven-on-seven. That is already changing under Harbaugh. The Chargers held five periods of 11-on-11 drills Monday, including a third-down period. Justin Herbert and the first-team offense got 26 reps. During the first period, the first-team offense faced the second-team defense, and the second-team offense faced the first-team defense. The starters went up against the starters for the final four periods.”

Daniel Popper on Jim Harbaugh having the Los Angeles Chargers run 11-on-11 drills in OTAs

Everything about the Chargers organization has changed in the transition from Staley to Harbaugh. While there are still NFL rules regarding contact and practice hours, Harbaugh and the Chargers coaching staff are clearly maximizing the time they have. With more 11-on-11 drills and an emphasis on conditioning, Chargers players should be more well-prepared for a 17-game season.

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