Drew Brees vs. Philip Rivers

It was two years ago that a quarterback quandary had set in. It was Drew Brees against Doug Flutie and the newcomer came out on top. Now Philip Rivers is manning a spot under center and threatens the very ground Brees stands on. He is, after all, the San Diego Chargers first round draft pick from this years NFL draft and his public demeanor oozes with the mindset of a savvy vet.

The Drew Brees vs. Philip Rivers controversy has already begun. It took just one San Diego Chargers minicamp for the real sparks to fly. The scene was depicted on the field and off the field as evidence of a changing of the guard was seen in subtle ways. From the way the fans pined for Rivers to the way he talked in interviews after the practice, it already seemed to be the team Rivers built.

It started with his simple command in the huddle. Rivers took control of his posse of teammates and was very vocal in the process. After a route was run in a way he did not think was proper, Rivers would meet with the receiver and talk to him about what he expected to be done. When it was his fault, he owned up to it and put an arm around the receiver as they walked and talked. It didn't matter if it was a rookie or a veteran; no one was left out of his little talks.

His command with the football in his hands was just as impressive. Expecting rookie anxiety, he delivered poise in the pocket. When the rush came and there was no one to throw to he sent it to the ground where no one was, saving his own body and not forcing the ball in. His throws were crisp and he led receivers in the midst of their routes. His touch was also on target as he dropped a few deep balls in.

Not one ball was batted down from Rivers. Forget about his throwing motion – it was an overblown non-issue then and still is today. Most of his throws were thrown upwards of the three-quarters mark and he held the ball a little higher than he has in the past. His release was still quick as a fox. Very few times did he show the trademark sidearm and when he did it was because his throwing lane overhead was clogged up by a lineman and he was dumping the ball off no more than five-to-ten yards away.

Rivers was not without fault. He threw a couple picks on the weekend and made several poor throws.

"Making good progress," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Rivers. "He is not immune to errors. It is going to take some time certainly for him to get where he is going to be comfortable. As long as you are moving forward we are going to be pleased."

But what separated him from Brees was his confidence.

In an interview after the workout, Rivers looked everyone in the eye when they asked questions. He answered questions on his faults with sincerity and talked excitedly about the future.

"I thought it went well," Rivers explained. "I made some mistakes like I am going to continue to do throughout this process. The key is to learn from them and I think it went well. It certainly went better than the first minicamp. I am a lot more comfortable and you can definitely see as the summer gets further and further along the intensity keeps picking up as real camp gets closer and that is good – geared towards game speed and game preparation."

Brees, on the other hand, has always had the perception of being disinterested. He has not been passionate when talked to and has a tendency to look down at his feet when he interviews with the occasional glance up.

And during minicamp weekend, Brees was ignored. Sure he had his faithful fans calling his name but as he walked off the field, a time reserved for reporters to pester and prod him with questions, Brees was unhindered on the way to the locker room. As he turned the corner heading in, he took one last look out with a scowl.

But how was his play on the field?

Brees had his moments on the field where he looked unbelievable. He was hitting every target in stride, but at times, similar to the season, it looked like he was pressing.

When the teams lined up for full scrimmage drills, Brees was looking for that perfect pass and when it wasn't there he would try to make a play happen, often falling incomplete. Whether it was an issue of him wanting to make that one play that would keep him in the starting lineup or something else, it didn't work.

Where Brees excelled was in his third down conversions in the same drill. When the team was backed up ten yards and needed a first down to keep the drive alive, he was on target with authority. Rivers, on the other hand, would hit his outlets to make third down a matter of two or three yards and wasn't tested on third and long. Brees, you may remember, was awful on third down a year ago. Perhaps it is the new season that has him hitting the tight spots in such situations or it could just be lack of a true pass rush.

In seven on seven drills, Brees was a man amongst boys. He was very good at looking through his progressions and making the right read. He was finding everyone, spreading the ball equally around.

He did not, however, make a significant attempt to pin down his receivers when they ran a route wrong or were not where Brees thought they should be.

Where does this talk leave us?

It is yet too early to decide. If there is one truth to be taken from this it is the reason Philip Rivers was sought so heavily by the San Diego Chargers. They wanted a player that has true command of the huddle and can truly parlay the image that Schottenheimer desires.

The drills remain "non-contact" and progress is often veiled by that. Rivers may be the king of the practice field, but how will he play in a game when the speed he alludes to has been raised. Brees may be out of touch off the field but this is the same player that brought a terrible team to an 8-8 record in 2002. Has he regressed that much since then?

Who gives this team the best chance to win is what it will come down to. And while it looks like Rivers is the real deal, as a rookie, he may not be the one. Was the playbook condensed for him? Is his play-action pass coming along? These are all questions that need to be considered before he takes the helm.

Another important factor is how their teammates view the candidates and how they view their teammates. Luckily we will examine that next time out as many have weighed in with their views and sides may already be taken in the fight.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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