Chargers veterans join rookies for first practice together

The Chargers’ offseason program continued Monday with a workout at their headquarters in Costa Mesa.

The practice featured the team’s veterans and rookies together for the first time, coach Jim Harbaugh last week explaining the blending process by likening it to merging onto the 405 Freeway.

With the opening of the second phase of workouts, here’s a look at some recent Chargers happenings:

In the spotlight

The status of the Chargers expanded the instant the team hired Harbaugh in late January, a celebrity head coach just off a college national champion giving the franchise a 120-proof shot of credibility.

The high-profile adjustment has worked both ways, Harbaugh beginning to experience the benefits of his increased stardom in fame-loving Southern California.

In the last 10 days, he and wife Sarah have attended a charity gala hosted by the Dodgers, the wedding of former Chargers executive Nicoletta Ruhl and actor Jaleel White, and the roast of Tom Brady.

“There were celebrities everywhere,” Harbaugh said. “Jaleel is a celebrity. Actors from ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ Shohei Ohtani. I just turned to her and said, ‘We’re not in Ann Arbor anymore, Sarah.’ ”

Another deep threat

Among all the things Justin Herbert gives the Chargers, his presence alone affects the team’s fortunes. Harbaugh referenced that reality when asked about the signing of veteran wide receiver DJ Chark Jr.

“We really liked him a lot,” Harbaugh said. “He liked us. He liked what we have going. I’m sure No. 10 helps the most. Really good receivers want to play with a really good quarterback. I’m not going to take any credit for that. It’s mostly, I think, Justin.”

Chark confirmed Harbaugh’s assessment Monday when he met with reporters for the first time since joining the Chargers, calling Herbert “a top-five QB in this league in any given year.”

Entering his seventh season, Chark is expected to provide the Chargers with a much needed down-the-field element, his career average of 14.5 yards per reception an indication of that ability.

Chark said Herbert “can only really bring me up a notch,” noting that the quarterback has teamed with a variety of wide receivers — including Mike Williams and Tyron Johnson — to produce explosive moments.

“If you notice, there’s always been guys making big plays here no matter who it was,” Chark said. “Just being able to get on that same page with him, I think the rest will take care of itself.”

A Charger for life

Seventh-round draft pick Cornelius Johnson wore his official Chargers gear for the first time during rookie minicamp. It wasn’t, however, his first time in the team’s colors.

Growing up in Connecticut, Johnson was a fan of Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and often wore No. 21 as a tribute. He explained that he also loved the Chargers’ uniforms.

Shortly after the draft, a picture of Johnson emerged on social media showing him in a Tomlinson jersey and with his hair shaved into a bolt. He was 8 at the time.

“I just loved LaDainian’s game, loved his highlights,” Johnson said. “Then, all of those guys like [Antonio] Gates and [Philip] Rivers, that whole squad. … It’s amazing that they were the team that ended up drafting me to be my dream.”

Johnson’s older brother, Cassius, played football at the University of San Diego, which gave Johnson an opportunity to see Qualcomm Stadium — from the outside, at least.

“I remember me and my dad [Claude] tried to get in there when they were still trying to demolish it,” he said. “They kicked us out.”

Looking in from the outside

New Chargers cornerback Kristian Fulton mentioned the importance of being in sync with the coaches multiple times during his first session with reporters Monday.

His time with Tennessee soured in 2023 to the point where he was benched as the 2020 second-round pick struggled with consistency. Fulton also dealt with repeated soft-tissue injuries during his four seasons with the Titans.

“If your coaches and players are on two different pages, then your players on the field are still second-guessing,” he said when asked about last year. “It’s kind of like that, just taking indecision out of calls and all those things.”

In need of a starting outside cornerback opposite Asante Samuel Jr., the Chargers signed Fulton in March to a deal that guarantees him $2.445 million for this season.

He started 35 games over the last three years and has four career interceptions. Fulton, however, is coming off a season in which Pro Football Focus gave him his worst overall defensive grade.

He explained that — in retrospect — he didn’t believe going to Tennessee was best for his career. He said he thinks a fresh start with the Chargers and new defensive coordinator Jesse Minter can only help.

“Just me personally looking back, I don’t think I was put in the best position,” Fulton said. “That’s just where I was drafted. So I didn’t have no say-so in that. I finally got an opportunity where I’m put in a position where I think it’s the best opportunity for me.”

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