QB Philip Rivers (Robert Laberge/Getty)
If Bolts Backers need a little pick-me-up after all the negativity surrounding the saga of Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson, here it is: The NFL is driven by quarterbacks. And few teams have as much talent under center as the San Diego Chargers.
Talk about San Diego's quarterback situation inside the message boards.
The questions surrounding Philip Rivers have changed. It used to be, “Is he only as good as his supporting cast?” and “When will he shut his big mouth?”
Now, the questions are more along the lines of, “Where does he rank among the game’s elite quarterbacks?” and “When will he finally get his Super Bowl ring?”
Rivers is still not fully appreciated by the national media but that tide started to turn last season. He authored another stellar campaign, completing 317 of 486 passes (65.2 percent) for 4,254 yards, 28 TDs and only nine INTs. His passer rating was a sterling 104.4, leading the AFC in that category for a second consecutive season.
Rivers’ statistical excellence -- along with San Diego’s 11-game winning streak -- helped him make a late push into the MVP realm. Although the award eventually went to Peyton Manning, Rivers figures to be in the MVP derby again in 2010.
However, Rivers will have to overcome some new obstacles this time around. He may be without his favorite wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, as well as blindside protector Marcus McNeill. Also, Rivers will play for the first time without LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield. Tomlinson was clearly in decline last season, yet he still brought a lot to the table, including ball security and the ability to finish near the goal line.
San Diego is counting on Rivers to lift the players around him and help the offense avoid a drop-off after leading the AFC in scoring in 2009 (28.4 points per game).
If Rivers gets hurt -- and to his credit, he has never missed a start due to an injury -- Billy Volek is ready to go. The 11-year veteran forever won the hearts of Chargers fans in the 2007 postseason when he stepped in and led San Diego to a road win over the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Last season, Volek showed he is as ready as ever. He completed better than 70 percent of his passes during the preseason and led the second unit to a 23-20 win over the Washington Redskins in the regular season finale. Volek hit Mike Tolbert for the winning TD with less than a minute remaining.
A new face rounds out the depth chart as fifth-round pick Jonathan Crompton takes over for Charlie Whitehurst, who was traded to the Seattle Seahawks. Crompton had an up-and-down career at Tennessee, but he finished strong as a senior and played his way onto San Diego’s draft board.
The Chargers, though, are more impressed with Crompton’s pro potential than his college productivity. He can attack the defense at every level and push the ball down the field. He’ll be given every chance to develop those skills under the guidance of quarterback guru Norv Turner.
Crompton is the final piece of the “dream depth chart” at quarterback. The Chargers have a franchise player leading the way, a wily veteran waiting in the wings, and a youngster learning the ropes behind them.
It all sounds great -- and it is. But if anyone other than No. 17 is taking snaps for a prolonged period of time, the Chargers might as well be the Oakland Raiders.
For more on Crompton, check out this interview with UT QBs coach David Reaves.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.