Chargers drafting Joe Alt fits Jim Harbaugh's gritty philosophy: 'Competitors welcome'

Malik Nabers would’ve been a Hollywood pick. The same with Rome Odunze, the other top receiver who was available.

The Chargers went in another direction Thursday.

Offensive tackle Joe Alt, whom they chose fifth overall in the NFL draft, was a trademark Jim Harbaugh selection.

Harbaugh wants the Chargers to run the ball?

Alt, who was measured at the combine at 6 feet 9 and 321 pounds, should allow them to do that.

Harbaugh wants to protect quarterback Justin Herbert?

Alt, who was a two-time All-American at Notre Dame, should help them do that.

Harbaugh wants toughness?

Alt, who didn’t miss a game in his three-year college career, should provide that.

“He’s there every day, he’s there every game,” Harbaugh said. “That tells me he’s a competitor.”

Who knows if a Los Angeles team can ever be a blue-collar team, but Harbaugh is doing what he can to transform the Chargers into at least a powder-blue-collar team.

“Competitors welcome,” Harbaugh said. “Any country in the world, any state in our country, any team — competitors welcome.”

In the wake of the salary-cap-forced departures of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the Chargers could have used their first-round selection on a wide receiver. At the moment, the team’s two best receivers are Joshua Palmer and Quentin Johnston.

Nabers, the Louisiana State threat who was taken by the New York Giants at No. 6, was an option.

Odunze, the Washington receiver who went to the Chicago Bears at No. 9, was also a possibility.

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

Harbaugh depended on a physical offensive line to win at Stanford. He counted on a strong offensive line to turn around the San Francisco 49ers. He rode a strong offensive line at Michigan to a national championship.

Harbaugh’s group with the Chargers will have a former All-Pro in Rashawn Slater at left tackle and Alt on the right. Alt, who played exclusively as a left tackle in college, said he was open to a position change.

“Whatever coaches want,” he said.

Trey Pipkins III, who played right tackle last season, figures to move to guard.

“We’re gonna play the best five [offensive linemen] that we have on the team,” Harbaugh said. “I would predict that there’s a spot for Pipkins.”

Suddenly, an offensive line that was one of the team’s weak points last season has a chance to be a defining feature.

Harbaugh said the Chargers didn’t expect to have a top-five pick again and were determined to make this one count. What they did with the selection was a reflection of Harbaugh’s priorities. Upgrades at receiver could wait.

The coach raved about Alt’s size.

Harbaugh remarked how Alt towered over his father, John Alt, who was an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs for 13 seasons. When John Alt was a player, he was listed at 6 feet 8.

Harbaugh praised the 21-year-old Alt’s athleticism and potential.

“Might I say the word ‘freaky,’” he said.

More than anything, Harbaugh sounded excited about Alt’s competitive nature. Safeties coach Chris O’Leary was at Notre Dame the previous six years. Defensive line coach Mike Elston was with the Fighting Irish in Alt’s freshman season.

“So we had the kind of intel is best to have, people that were right inside the building, who were there with him every single day,” Harbaugh said.

The decision to pick was unanimous, according to Harbaugh. In other words, owner Dean Spanos or any of Harbaugh’s other superiors didn’t try to push for a sexier selection.

And why should they? They already made a headline-stealing move this offseason by landing Harbaugh.

The Chargers invested in the coach. They believed in him. And on the first day of the draft, they trusted him to solidify the foundation of the team, even if it wasn’t what many of their fans wanted.

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