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Jim Harbaugh can’t stop giving salutes to QB Justin Herbert at Camp Pendleton

Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh (right) speaks with quarterback Justin Herbert.
Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh, right, understands why quarterback Justin Herbert does not enjoy wearing the “protective” gold jersey.
(Associated Press)
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Despite everything he did at Oregon, despite 17,000 NFL passing yards and 114 touchdown tosses and all the records already set as a Charger, Justin Herbert never has stood out quite like this on a football field.

Wrapped in a golden jersey while everyone else is dressed in blue or white, Herbert literally has resembled a one-man team at times during the Chargers’ offseason program.

“He did not want that,” coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday. “He didn’t. And I get that. I understand that. As a quarterback, I didn’t like wearing a different color jersey than anybody else on the team.”

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But Harbaugh has insisted that Herbert go gold as a reminder to others to give him his space — Harbaugh called it “a halo” — as a means to protect the franchise’s most significant asset.

While it is standard for teams to outfit their quarterbacks in brighter jerseys as a precaution, the difference this spring is that Herbert typically has been the only one in an alternate color.

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“Two yards for the all quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said, using his hands to illustrate a barrier surrounding the player. “But the guy wearing the gold jersey, let’s make that 2½ or three.”

Maximizing Herbert first means maximizing his health, something the Chargers have struggled to do the last two seasons as rib, shoulder and finger injuries impacted his play.

Herbert missed the final four games last year because of a fractured right index finger., a break that required surgery and officially unhinged a season already careening to nowhere.

Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh (left) and owner Dean Spanos flank  Marine Colonel Charles Dudik.
Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh (left) and owner Dean Spanos flank Marine Col. Charles Dudik at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The reset from the team’s 5-12 finish included the hiring of Harbaugh, who arrived praising Herbert and has continued to tout his quarterback as the two learn more about one another.

With the Chargers opening their three-day mandatory minicamp in Costa Mesa, Harbaugh, asked what has most excited him about Herbert, answered, “That would be a long list.”

The coach then talked about Herbert’s passing, his understanding of blitz protection and his ability to quickly pick up another new offensive system. Then Harbaugh mentioned a conditioning test that Herbert “smashed” last week.

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“Just when you think he can’t go another rung on the ladder of my esteem, he finds another one,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, crushed it, like out in front with people trying to keep up with him.”

An ironic moment came next when Harbaugh noted the discovery that he said has been No. 1 for him: Herbert’s insistence on — despite his golden status — not purposely standing out.

“The top of the list would be the way he elevates teammates,” Harbaugh said. “He lifts them up, kind of makes himself smaller and them bigger as opposed to a guy that pushes the others down and, you know, ‘Look at me.’ ”

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Harbaugh has worked with other accomplished quarterbacks during his coaching days, including Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and, last season, first-round draft pick J.J. McCarthy.

Herbert, however, seems to be on a different level, Harbaugh calling him “an expert at football” and “a razor-sharp, intelligent person.” Harbaugh said Herbert is bigger than he looks on television and throws the ball harder than appearances suggest.

Yes, Harbaugh flatly gushed at times, particularly when discussing the athletic ability of his 6-foot-6, 236-pound quarterback.

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“Really, he could play tight end here,” Harbaugh insisted. “He could play edge rusher here. And the arm talent is even better than advertised. It’s an exciting thing.

“I’ve found myself just sitting at my desk at times, going, ‘He’s on our team!’ You know it’s not just in shorts because I’ve seen him do this in 11-on-11 NFL padded football games.”

Coach Jim Harbaugh addresses his Chargers at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The Chargers began minicamp with an hourlong workout at their facility before busing about 60 minutes south to Camp Pendleton for a walk-through and meet-and-greet on the military base, the event drawing an estimated 5,000 spectators.

They will hold practices Wednesday and Thursday before taking a break ahead of training camp. The Chargers will reconvene toward the end of July at their new training center in El Segundo.

Most notable among the players not on the field for practice Tuesday was running back Gus Edwards. Tight ends Will Dissly and Donald Parham Jr. were among a group working with athletic trainers off to the side.

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Led by his increased appreciation of Herbert, Harbaugh said he has been pleased with his first Chargers offseason.

“My mood will always depend on how football practice went,” he explained. “I’ve been in a good mood.”

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