Chargers say they drafted 'a weapon' in huge Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt

The Chargers’ expressed desire to become a more physical, bullish team continued Thursday when they used the No. 5 pick in the draft on offensive tackle Joe Alt.

General manager Joe Hortiz and coach Jim Harbaugh touted Alt’s size — he’s listed at 6 feet 9 and 321 pounds by the NFL — and athletic ability, Hortiz calling it “elite” and Harbaugh “extreme.”

Alt also just turned 21 at the end of February, and the Chargers believe that they’ve added a player who still is developing in ways both measurable and significant.

“You’re talking about a guy who’s still growing and maturing,” Hortiz said. “The upside with him is tremendous.”

Alt is expected to take over at right tackle, with 2021 Pro Bowler Rashawn Slater on the left side. At Notre Dame, Alt began as a right tackle in his first fall camp before switching sides for the balance of his three college seasons.

Trey Pipkins III has been the Chargers’ right tackle the last two years, but he struggled with consistency last season.

Still, Harbaugh said he believes Pipkins remains one of their top five offensive linemen and cautioned reporters: “Don’t rule anything out, who’s going to play where. We’re going to play the best five that we have on the team.”

The Chargers will return both starting guards, Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer, and signed veteran free agent Bradley Bozeman to take over at center for the retiring Corey Linsley.

In selecting Alt, the Chargers passed on highly regarded wide receivers Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze. Wide receiver is a position at which they have only one proven performer in Joshua Palmer.

The Chargers lost Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as salary cap casualties in March and haven’t signed any free agents at the position. Nabers went at No. 6 to the New York Giants and Odunze at No. 9 to Chicago.

Hortiz explained that Alt represented the “best player available for the Chargers” at No. 5 and said he will continue shopping for receivers. The team’s next pick comes at No. 37 in the second round Friday.

“I know the question’s going to come up and you’re going to say, ‘What about a weapon?’ ” Harbaugh said. “Offensive linemen, we look at as weapons.”

Since his introductory news conference in early February, Harbaugh has promised to rebuild the Chargers up front and bolster a running game that has been particularly unreliable of late.

The Chargers’ biggest investment in free agency was in tight end Will Dissly, who is known more for his blocking than pass catching. They also signed the downhill-oriented Gus Edwards to be their lead running back.

Alt adds another physical piece, his run blocking often cited in predraft scouting reports as his greatest strength.

“He drives off the line of scrimmage,” Hortiz said. “You watch him move players over three gaps on his down blocks. He’s very athletic. Excellent range. High-level competitor.”

As for Alt’s pass blocking — protecting quarterback Justin Herbert also remains a Chargers priority — Hortiz noted that he has shown the ability to rebound after early setbacks on plays.

Both Hortiz and Harbaugh specifically mentioned Alt’s knee and ankle flexion and his ability to bend for someone his size.

“Everyone’s going to get knocked back some,” Hortiz said. “He doesn’t get knocked back very often. When it does happen, he’s got that freakish athleticism to recover.”

Alt comes from an athletic family. His father, John, was a two-time Pro Bowl tackle during a 13-year NFL career spent entirely with Kansas City. His brother, Mark, plays pro hockey and had a brief stint with the Kings in 2020-21.

When he was a high schooler in Minnesota, Alt played quarterback and tight end before moving to the offensive line at Notre Dame.

He said he doesn’t believe switching to right tackle will be an issue and promised to be dedicated as a Charger.

“I love hard work,” Alt said, “and that’s what I’m always going to do.”

Entering Thursday, much of the speculation surrounding the Chargers had them trading the No. 5 pick and moving back in the first round in order to accrue more draft capital.

Hortiz said he took one call from another team while the Chargers were on the clock but opted to retain the pick.

There also were reports that other clubs inquired about the availability of Herbert. Hortiz said only that he was approached by peers about the quarterback at the NFL combine in February.

“They were quickly shot down,” Hortiz said. “No. That is never an option.”

Shortly after the Chargers selected Alt, Harbaugh said his brother, John, texted him with his approval. John is Baltimore’s coach.

Harbaugh praised Hortiz and the Chargers’ personnel department, scouts and assistant coaches.

“I have total confidence and trust that we got it right,” Harbaugh said. “Then, you gotta go make it right. And I believe we got a great partner in doing that in Joe Alt.”

Joe Alt — offensive tackle

6-9, 321 pounds, Notre Dame, Round 1, Pick 5

Notable: His father, John, was an offensive lineman at Iowa and a first-round pick of Kansas City in 1984 before earning two Pro Bowl selections. Alt’s brother, Mark, played hockey at Minnesota and in the NHL, including a brief stint with the Kings in 2020-21.

Last season: Alt was a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award while starting 12 games at left tackle. He also was a first-team All-American.

Why the Chargers drafted him: Since the day was he hired, coach Jim Harbaugh has preached his desire to turn the Chargers into a more physical, line-of-scrimmage team, which means beefing up the offensive front. Alt gives the Chargers an enormous presence up front in the run game and in protecting quarterback Justin Herbert. He played on the left side for the Fighting Irish but is expected to move to the right and replace Trey Pipkins III, who struggled with consistency last season. The Chargers have Pro Bowler Rashawn Slater at left tackle.

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