Three to Watch: Five-Year Veterans

DE Igor Olshansky (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)

After months of spouting about Super Bowl aspirations, the Chargers start turning talk into action this week as they get ready to host the Carolina Panthers in the regular-season opener. Leading the playoff push is a trio of fifth-year veterans, one in every phase of the game.

1. QB Philip Rivers

Rivers enters his fifth season with the Chargers as the team's undisputed leader. Although he's always been popular with his teammates, he officially cemented himself as the face of the franchise by playing in last year's AFC Championship Game despite a seriously injured ACL.


QB Philip Rivers
Stephen Dunn/Getty

Rivers underwent knee surgery during the offseason and rehabbed vigorously to get ready for opening day. He looked sharp during his last preseason performance against the Seattle Seahawks, when he completed 11 of 21 passes for 143 yards and managed the game well. Rivers did not turn the ball over and was not sacked against the Seahawks.

Rivers has established a sparkling 25-7 record as a starter, yet still must raise his game to another level. The two teams the Chargers are competing with for AFC supremacy, the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, are led by surefire Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Rivers needs to prove he can hang those elite arms if the Chargers are to make a run to the Super Bowl.

2. DE Igor Olshansky

Olshansky is coming off a stellar season in which he set career-highs with 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception. He has plenty of motivation to top those numbers in 2008, as he scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Olshansky is a fierce run defender who frequently pushes his opponents into the backfield. He has played an integral part in the Chargers' run defense ranking in the NFL's top-seven in three of the last four seasons. Another run-smothering campaign should secure his future with the team in the form of a multi-year contract extension.

3. PK Nate Kaeding

Kaeding finally shucked his "choker" label during the AFC Championship Game, connecting on field goal attempts of 26, 23, 40 and 24 yards. He carried that momentum into the preseason, connecting on his first six attempts before pushing a rushed 32-yard try wide left.

By all accounts, Kaeding has enjoyed a superb offseason. His trademark accuracy remains in place and his kickoffs are soaring with improved height and distance. Since being drafted by the Chargers in 2004, Kaeding has converted 91 of 105 field goal tries (86.7 percent). As a result, he picked up a Pro Bowl invite (2006) and a six-year extension that keeps him in San Diego through 2012.

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