Rivers' performance will be up for scrutiny during training camp in order to gauge his mended knee. The Bolts are set to weigh their best backup option, leaving Billy Volek and Charlie Whitehurst to battle to be the primary backup signal-caller.
After signing a new three-year contract in February, Volek (6'2", 214 pounds) will kick off his third year in San Diego and his ninth year in the NFL. Volek opted to remain a Bolt to provide reliable backup in case Rivers fails to return in top form.
General Manager A.J. Smith was enthused by Volek's decision.
"We are very excited to have Billy back. It gives us continuity at the quarterback position," Smith said. "He is always prepared and ready. With his talent, experience and command of our offense, it's just a great feeling to know he is in the wings."
QB Billy Volek
While proving a steady insurance package behind Rivers, it wasn't the first time Volek left an impressive mark. In 2004, he became the fourth player in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards in back-to-back games. Even though Volek's talented contributions are fully appreciated by the Bolts, the team still has high hopes for Whitehurst to flourish to his full potential.
Whitehurst (6'4", 227 pounds) also enters his third season with the Chargers after being drafted in the third-round in 2006 out of Clemson. While his most important role is communicating the plays to Rivers from the sidelines, he has never been given a significant opportunity to shine on the field. In 2006, he marked his main highlight against the Tennessee Titans with a 14-yard touchdown run.
With skills to be a starter in the NFL, Whitehurst has a good arm and knack for pushing the ball downfield but lacks the live-game experience. He appears unpredictable at times, leading him to turn the ball over, but much of that can be attributed to his time on the sidelines.
With two years of learning under his belt, Whitehurst has improved greatly along the way. While he is likely more talented than Volek, the only way for Whitehurst to progress to the next level would be to see the field in a game situation.
"I can perform when my number is called and I am very confident in that," he said.
With Volek's newly signed contract, Whitehurst's chances of seeing field time appear dim. Whitehurst will be an unrestricted free agent in two years and if he remains on the Bolts' sidelines for the duration, he will likely depart in search of playing time. If that happens, San Diego will get no return on its investment.
While Volek has the obvious edge in experience, Whitehurst has untapped potential that the Chargers might explore. Volek appears to hold the primary backup role behind Rivers, but the Bolts could test the waters by bringing Whitehurst on the field late in lopsided contests. Whitehurst needs to foster his existing talent and challenge his abilities in a game setting.
Even though Rivers is expected to return to the field fully recuperated, he may not be 100 percent. This would be a fitting time for the Bolts to survey Whitehurst's aptitude. Volek remains optimist that he will maintain his position and be the first to step in if Rivers fails to live up to his expectations. However, Volek might be in for a surprise if Whitehurst shows the consistency to live up to his potential.