Philip Rivers' New Head Coach Doesn't See a Physically Diminished Quarterback
Jason B. Hirschhorn
When the Los Angeles Chargers and Philip Rivers decided to part ways earlier this offseason, one team emerged from the pack as the most logical landing spot for the veteran quarterback: the Indianapolis Colts.
While Rivers had never lived anywhere close to Indiana, he had a close relationship with Colts head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni from their shared time in San Diego. Those ties helped convince Rivers to join the team after 16 years with the Chargers.
"This was a unique opportunity," Reich said during a conference call with reporters. "It wasn't so much about what Jacoby [Brissett] is doing. It was about an opportunity to get someone who we feel is an elite quarterback who can help our team."
Several other veteran signal-callers left their teams this offseason, including Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Teddy Bridgewater (Carolina Panthers), and Cam Newton (still unsigned). But unlike Rivers, who Reich says already knows "80 or 85% of the offense, maybe more," those quarterbacks will need to devote considerable time to learning and adapting to a different system.
"As far as teaching [Rivers] more, when we are able to send him stuff and get him materials, he'll pick it up quickly," Reich said. "As soon as we are able to communicate with him where we can talk football and really get into teaching mode, it won't take long."
The Colts know Rivers fits their scheme. Whether he can still consistently play at a high level at age 38 remains unclear. Last season, Rivers committed 23 turnovers including seven interceptions over a two-game stretch in November. The Chargers nearly benched Rivers for the poor play, and the downturn certainly factored into the team's decision not to pursue a new contract this offseason.
Still, Reich feels confident that Rivers still has the ability to perform at a high level.
"Obviously, when it came out that Philip was going to be available, it was an easy discussion to see that it was a fit with us," Reich said. "Does he still have it all left in the tank at 38? What does he have left in the tank at 38? Just having been there on the inside for the three years I was and knowing the quarterback position like I do, I was so confident that physically he was the right player and that he had not lost anything. All of the throws I saw on film and as I go back and studied him compared to previous throws, I really didn't notice any physical gifts diminishing at all. I really didn't."
In Indianapolis, Rivers will play behind one of the NFL's premier offensive lines, a luxury he didn't have the last few seasons of his Chargers career. He'll also have a receiving corps headlined by Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton, a deep backfield led by Marlon Mack, and an up-and-coming defense that added Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner last month. That strong supporting cast and the Colts' winnable division gives Rivers his best chance of competing for a Super Bowl.
"When I tell you he is elite intellectually, he's just at the top," Reich said. "There's a rare group of guys in the football world who I would put in that category. Not everybody gets those gifts. He has them and so that'll be to his advantage and to our advantage."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH