Standing up for a teammate

The microscope will be on Philip Rivers this season but he has the backing of his teammates who believe in his abilities.

Put aside new starting quarterback Philip Rivers' quirky delivery. Forget about him throwing only 30 NFL passes as he readies to take over the Chargers offense. Never mind he has never started an NFL game.

Instead, focus on what his teammates think about the former fourth overall pick directing the Chargers to their anticipated goal: the playoffs.

Everyone knows Rivers must replace Brees' production -- 20 wins the last two seasons -- on the field. But what about filling Brees' cleats as a team leader? Few Chargers were held in higher regard than the team-oriented Brees.

"One thing I respect about Philip the most is he definitely has leadership qualities," All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates said. "I've been around some leaders; been around Drew Brees and played in the Pro Bowl with Peyton Manning and (Rivers) definitely has the same qualities of being a leader. He looks comfortable out there."

Looks can be deceiving to an untrained eye. But NFL players can sense whether a player has "it" -- especially at the quarterback position. And so far, there's been few complaints about Brees' replacement.

"Philip is a good people person," Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "He is able to communicate with everyone on the team, whether offensive linemen or defensive linemen. He is a natural leader, I would say that. He is smart; he knows what's going on and I think that will help him."

Heaven knows first-time starting NFL quarterbacks need all the assistance they can get. Miami's Dan Marino and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger are the exceptions to fresh quarterbacks taking their lumps their first year as starters.

But Tomlinson think Rivers won't he hamstrung for long.

"I don't think you'll have too much of a learning curve at all," Tomlinson said. "I really believe we have enough veterans on this team to take some of the pressure off Phillip so he doesn't have to feel like he has to throw for 300 yards a game."

But he might, at some point. And that's when Rivers will earn the equivalent of his NFL stripes.

"I think it will be the time where they're going to force us to throw the football and they put nine men in the box and say, 'you know what, you're not going to run the football,"' Tomlinson said. "That is going to be the time when we are going to have throw the football, the time when Philip is going to have to make some plays for us and he is going to be able to do that."

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