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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rivers runs his mouth, Chargers like what they hear

(Fox sports): There may be a new face of the San Diego Chargers.

One whose lips don't stop moving.

During the Chargers' first training camp practice Monday, quarterback Philip Rivers shouted good-natured encouragement toward injured players in rehabilitation drills a football field away. He chatted with the media afterward about his speedy rehabilitation from off-season knee surgery. He even spotted tight end Antonio Gates in the locker room doing the last of a series of interviews and chided, "You're going through it big time on day one. Gosh!"
The Chargers regard such loquaciousness as one of Rivers' most endearing qualities.
"The way he's able to communicate with his players, he doesn't act like a typical quarterback," said Gates, who has watched Rivers blossom over the past two seasons since becoming a starter. "Some quarterbacks can be like, 'I'm only going to speak to the guys that are good.' He interacts with everybody.
"For you to interact with a guy on the practice squad, that says a lot about your character and leadership abilities. He knows how to lead a team."
And how to aggravate others.
As his play has improved, so has Rivers' propensity for verbal altercations. He taunted Denver quarterback Jay Cutler from the sideline last December toward the end of a 23-3 Chargers rout, prompting Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey to tell the Rocky Mountain News that Rivers talks "too much trash."
Rivers was at it again three weeks later in a second-round playoff game at Indianapolis, jawing with Colts fans sitting behind the Chargers bench and those jeering as he left the field with a knee injury. Even the Chargers brain trust of coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith believe those antics were unnecessary.
"He's got to use better judgment," Turner said. "He doesn't have to be yelling at people in the stands. That was an unusual circumstance. But he's a competitive guy. I think that's one of the things that gets him and our guys going."
Rivers told that he was sorry about what happened in Indianapolis but isn't about to apologize for a mouth that sometimes roars. The 26-year-old son of a fiery Alabama high school football coach, Rivers joked about his interaction with college fans who chanted "Arena Ball" while he played at North Carolina State.
"You can look at it two ways," he said. "You can't always worry about what everyone thinks. But at the same time, I wasn't trying to be blind to what it does appear to be. Certainly, you've got to be smart with your actions. There's nothing I regret. Being excited and having a good time, if you can't do that, we shouldn't be playing.
"There's a boundary to it. Ultimately, the question is whether it's a distraction to you or your teammates. As long as it's not and you can keep it to the confines of what we're doing, enjoy it and play."
Playing is what silenced some of Rivers' critics.Rivers started in last season's AFC Championship game loss to New England despite having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament against the Colts. It wasn't one of Rivers' best performances (19-of-37 passing with two interceptions and no touchdowns) but he won universal respect for competing with what is normally a debilitating injury.
"People are saying, 'I like Philip Rivers. I couldn't stand him before that, but for him to get out there and play, it shows guts,' " Gates said. "Seeing somebody out there with a brace playing his heart out and throwing passes with a torn ACL, they've got so much respect for him now."
Conversely, star running back LaDainian Tomlinson removed himself from the game early because of a sore knee. Tomlinson, a future Hall of Famer, deserves credit for shelving his ego when feeling ineffective. But with Rivers playing through his injury and Tomlinson ultimately not even requiring surgery, has the leadership mantle been passed inside the Chargers locker room?
"People are starting to debate whether (Rivers) is the face of this team now based on that performance," Gates acknowledged. "It's still outsiders. Outsiders see the situation and say, 'He didn't play and he did. We're going to make him the face.' But still, we understand why (Tomlinson didn't play). We're not going to let outsiders come into this family and (debate) why he's not playing."
Rivers awoke from his ACL surgery with his right leg already in a motion machine. While he is wearing a black metal brace, Rivers' rehabilitation has gone so well that he isn't expected to miss any preseason practice time.
That will give Rivers a chance to better his strong finish in 2007. Over the season's final nine games (including the playoffs), Rivers completed 60.6 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Chargers won eight of those contests before falling to the Patriots.
Such improvement stemmed from a combination of factors: Rivers growing increasingly comfortable with Turner's play-calling style in their first season together, quicker decision-making, the addition of wide receiver Chris Chambers via trade from Miami and the maturation that comes with being a second-year starter who spent 2004 and 2005 as Drew Brees' backup.
Basically, Rivers is becoming everything Smith envisioned when acquiring him and two picks (including a first-rounder) from the New York Giants in exchange for fellow quarterback Eli Manning on draft day in 2004 .
"He's made leaps and bounds both in his play and experience," Smith said. "He's somebody you can win a Super Bowl with."
That would speak louder than any words.