The missing ingredient

Rookies feel it before they get to training camp - that intangible feeling of not yet belonging. But when a player who has been in the league feels it - it is the result of not starting. They aren't part of the huddle and up close and personal when head coach Marty Schottenheimer brings the team together.

The day Philip Rivers has been dreaming about for more than two years finally arrived.

When the Chargers kicked off their offseason coaching sessions, Rivers was out front -- like any starting quarterback should be. He led the team in stretching, goaded teammates to give their best efforts and acted like the top gun at the team's most critical position.

With Drew Brees now in New Orleans, the Chargers are marching to a different beat, one led by Rivers.

"These last two years a part of me was missing a little bit because I had to take a little bit of a back seat and rightly so," Rivers said.

Rivers was supposed to take over for Brees back in 2004, when the Chargers made a blockbuster draft-day trade with the Giants to secure Rivers, the fourth overall pick. But protracted contract talks cost Rivers most of his first training camp and he never made up for lost time.

Brees went on to lead the Chargers to the AFC West title, a 12-4 record and was named the Comeback Player of the Year.

Rivers? He was involved in as many trade rumors as huddles these past two seasons, throwing but 30 NFL passes in sporadic duty.

His chance has finally come, and low and behold, it's in San Diego.

"It wasn't talked about a lot, but in the back of my mind I always hoped it would arrive here," Rivers said. "I was given the opportunity that first spring ever here, and how it played out the opportunity has been missing the last couple of years. But I know it's here and I'm glad it's here and I hope it is here for a long time."

Rivers doesn't have that long of time to get settled. The Chargers open against the Raiders on Sept. 11, but Rivers is determined to be ready. He's working extra with receivers, spending numerous hours at the facility and not backing down from taking the controls Brees once held so tightly.

The Chargers are eager to spit out that 9-7, third-place finish of last year. And Rivers is confident he's the right man for the job.

"We didn't meet the expectations that we had last year," Rivers said. "Coming off a 12-4 season and not going to the playoffs and losing the last couple the way we did, the guys are hungry. We got some veteran players and they don't play forever and it's a short window that you have an opportunity to win a championship. That window is now and we are on the right path."

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