This marks Philip Rivers' 16th offseason, and as he can attest, no two have ever been the same.
As the Bolts wrap up minicamp before parting ways for six weeks prior to the start of training camp, number 17 opened up about his mindset heading into the 2019 campaign.
The quarterback touched on several noteworthy topics following Wednesday’s spirited practice ranging from his preseason usage, expectations for this year's team, young playmakers competing for bigger roles and much more.
Here are some of the most notable takeaways from Rivers' lengthy session with reporters.
Limited Preseason Reps on the Horizon?
Head Coach Anthony Lynn announced last week he was considering changing his preseason approach to playing veterans this year, following the paths of more and more teams who limit their reps during the exhibition.
Naturally, this was among the first questions posed to Rivers, who is one of the fieriest competitors the league has ever seen.
So, what are his thoughts about this possible change?
"I think, as a competitor and someone who enjoys practice, it's always hard," he said. "You almost need them to protect you from yourself in those situations. I think it can be positive. I think you have to find that just-right recipe that is enough to be ready and prepared to have a great season, but also to be fresh and smart. You mention other veteran players, but it will be my 16th season, so I think it is smart to not rip it and throw it every single day all training camp long. I think it makes sense to do that. (Coach Lynn) mentioned it collectively as a group maybe having a little different approach in the preseason. Ultimately, you want to have your whole team healthy come the first game against the Colts. That's the goal. How can we do that and get ourselves as prepared as possible? I'm sure that will be Coach's plan."
At the same time, Rivers stressed the importance of the joint practices they'll be holding throughout training camp against other teams. In fact, the quarterback thinks he gets more out of that than sparing playing time he gets during a typical preseason game.
"I think the fact that we're going to practice against some other teams — that's about as live as it gets, but you get to wear a red jersey," he said. "If we didn't practice against anybody, I'd say, 'Gosh, that would probably be nice to get in some real game action.' To me, you're getting some real game action when you're going against two different teams, getting seven-on-seven reps. You're getting all kinds of reps, so you're getting more reps in those two practices than you'd ever get action in a game. I think, what did I throw, six or eight passes last year in the preseason? There is something about that game feeling, but I don't think it's necessary at this point. I don't know what the plan is yet, but if that were to be the plan, I would be fine with it."
About That Wide Receiver Competition
The Chargers return three of their top four wide receivers from a year ago following the departure of Tyrell Williams. Thus, it's no secret that there's an opportunity for several young wideouts who've been biding their time over the past few seasons to take the bull by the horns and earn a bigger role.
We're talking about the likes of Dylan Cantrell, Geremy Davis, Justice Liggins, Andre Patton, Artavis Scott and so on.
All eyes will certainly be on that competition, and you can count Rivers among those eager to see how it plays out.
"You love to see them compete and see kind of how it shakes out. I think you pull for all of them. You're pulling for us. It will be fun to see that competition throughout training camp and how those guys continue. That's a close room, too. They all pull for one another. It's a neat dynamic. It's one that's probably hard to explain and understand. You have guys fighting for a couple spots, but yet they all pull for one another. It's pretty cool to see."
Rivers will also have an active role in that competition.
While those young wide receivers have been around for a couple seasons, the quarterback's opportunities to build a rapport with them have been few and far between. After all, he'd take the field with the likes of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin while those younger wide receivers honed their craft with the twos and threes.
So, how does Rivers go about developing chemistry with these mostly untested wideouts?
"I think it's been good this offseason to get some reps with those guys that I really haven't gotten many reps with in the past if you think about it," he noted. "With Tyrell here (the last few seasons), Travis and then Mike coming on last year with Keenan, obviously, those are the main four guys, at least in practice. That's who I've always thrown to. This offseason, Geremy has been in there with us quite a bit. Artavis has been in there with us quite a bit. You've seen Andre, Justice and Dylan make some plays. They've all been kind of sprinkled in. That's been good for me. To me as the quarterback, it's not just going out there and throwing a route with no defense. I feel like that shouldn't take you very long to build or handle that. It's the trust-building, game-type plays where things happen in the coverage and you make a play that really can accelerate that relationship. Those guys are all working hard."
It's only natural that expectations are high following a season in which the Bolts tied for a conference-best 12-4 record.
Pundits and publications alike are high on the team's chances heading into 2019, so how does Rivers manage those expectations?
Truth be told, whether the team is coming off a 12-4 or 4-12 record, the expectations are always the same – to fight tooth and nail for a Super Bowl title. That being said, Rivers admitted the team appreciates the respect heaped on them while stressing they're determined to prove the high praise was appropriate.
"I think we have some of those same expectations," he explained. It's not like, 'Whoa, now they're picking us. They think we're pretty good.' It's that we feel that way about ourselves, but we know how hard it is because of our experience the last two years — and some of us, many years more than that. We know how hard it is to win. We know how some of those games that we won the past few years could have gone the other way. We've been on both sides. Through our experience, I think we'll be able to manage those expectations."
At the same time, Rivers stressed the praise won't go to the team's head.
"I don't think those will have any effect on us. I think it's really how you want it, right? You hope you get to a point where the expectation on the outside is similar to what it is on the inside. Not that it affects it. Even if nobody thinks we're very good, it only matters what we think in there. I think that's how you want it. Shoot, when the schedule comes out and there are more of those national, prime time games, that's really — I really don't care anymore at this point, but I think you can ask these young guys [and they'd say] that's what you want. That's what we all grew up watching. You enjoy that kind of a little more hype, a little more being in the news."
Rivers' favorite phrase is front and center even when he isn't outright stating the mantra, which is Latin for "now we begin."
Case in point, the quarterback noted that while last year's success is a positive springboard heading into 2019, the truth is the Bolts must once again begin anew.
"We have the right makeup I think, physically, and I think, mentally (to have success like last season)," he said. "I think you have to re-create it, mentally, both from a football standpoint with how you prepare, and then re-create it from a camaraderie standpoint. We have a good group, but it's not, 'Oh, we'll just pick up where we left off.' We have to re-create that bond, love and fight that you have for one another and with one another."
Proud of Gordon
Philip Rivers has had a front row seat to countless players' growth over his Hall of Fame career.
That's what happens when you have 15 seasons under your belt playing alongside hundreds, if not upwards of a thousand, teammates.
However, when asked about Melvin Gordon, it's clear he's particularly proud of the running back's career trajectory.
"It's been fun to actually see (him) as (a) rookie and (he) they operated, and then see how (his) career has gone and take off to become the player that (he is)," he said. "I never like to say his work ethic — makes it sound like he didn't have one before because I don't think it was bad before. I think you do learn how to be a pro and the right way to go about it. I do think that's played a big part for him. I think just figuring it out. He’s always been a guy that loves to train and work and do all that — but how do I do that? How do I study? How do I study tape? All of those things, he's gotten better and better."
Meanwhile, Rivers also explained how an unfortunate injury to a beloved Charger during Gordon's sophomore campaign paid major dividends. While no one wants to see a teammate go down, the silver lining is how it helped Gordon take his game to new heights.
"I really think when it really took a jump for him was the unfortunate injury to Danny (Woodhead in 2016). He went from, 'Okay, I don't really have to worry about protections. I'm going to sit here in these meetings, I'm going to listen, but I know Danny is going to be in there with all the blitzes and stuff.' Then, all the sudden, it was, 'Oh, I've got to do it.' I think it really put a demand on him and stretched him. I think it stretched him and probably made him very uncomfortable. You see what a great protector he is now and that he takes pride in it. I see him all the time throughout the season when he's studying stuff. He's studying blitz pickups and things like that. It's been cool to see that part of his game, I think, seeing him say, 'I can be on the field in every situation, run every route and do everything.' Even though we have a heck of a group of backs, I think him kind of taking that ownership has been big for him."