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Chargers TE Hayden Hurst: Jim Harbaugh-led squad looking to be tougher, more physical in 2024

Jim Harbaugh's return to the NFL launched an exodus from Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his defensive coordinator heading to Seattle, and a handful of Harbaugh's Wolverines lieutenants following him to Los Angeles.

With their move comes an intentional change in culture within the Chargers. It starts with an element they lacked in recent years: toughness.

"That's the mantra of this place; we're going to be physical," new tight end Hayden Hurst said, via ESPN. "We're going to come at you. When you see us pop up on the schedule, it's going to be a long Sunday."

Many of the Sundays the Chargers experienced last season were long for them. Though they owned the league's 18th-ranked offense, Los Angeles spent far too many weekends chasing opposing offenses all over the field, finishing 28th in total defense, and 31st in scoring defense.

That's where the toughness begins. The Harbaugh-led Chargers are no longer going to accept getting punched in the mouth by opposing offenses. They aim to ensure they'll achieve such a goal by focusing on the simple things, like physical preparation for a grueling season.

That's where another Michigan transplant, executive director of player performance Ben Herbert, comes into play.

"Consistency, attention to detail, emotional stability, bigger, faster, stronger, and more mobile and flexible," Herbert said of his key points of focus. "That's how you can describe our program."

The college speak that carried over from Michigan isn't hard to spot, but for a franchise that lacked general direction and intensity under its previous leadership, it's welcome. And apparently, the message has already been heard.

"We want to out-physical teams. We want teams to fear us," Hurst said. "We want teams to end up giving up in the fourth quarter, where we're just hitting our stride. I think that's where you get the most productive football, when you're just out-physicaling people."

All of this sounds great, but one of the Chargers' greatest issues has been health. Keenan Allen is gone, but he was far from the only key player affected by injuries in 2023.

Herbert aims to change that with his strength-training plan, which was proven to be effective by Michigan's avoidance of injury in their national title-winning 2023 season. He's focused on planning, not good fortune.

"I'm not really into luck," Herbert said. "I like to control the things that I can control, which is why we emphasize the things that we emphasize in training because, over time, it has proven that our guys, especially the guys that are playing the most football, are available to do that."

It all sounds good right now, in April. Time will tell whether it elicits the change the Chargers seek.

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