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The Lightning Strike: Is Philip Rivers’ 2018 backup still out there?

In his debut piece for BFTB, Cole takes a look at potential backup QB options that could be available once teams make their final roster cuts.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

They say can you never have too much of a good thing.

The 2018 Los Angeles Chargers squad has been highly praised for their growth under second-year head coach Anthony Lynn. Moving into a week 1 matchup against AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs, it’s easy to look at both rosters and see why this could be one of the top match-ups to start the regular season on a solid note.

The Chargers offense is packed with promising pieces moving forward. Running back Melvin Gordon eclipsed 1000+ rushing yards for the first time in his three year tenure with the organization and looks to build off that moving forward. Finally healthy, the Chargers could have a scary 1-2 combo on the outside with Keenan Allen and former first-round draft pick Mike Williams.

Williams’ natural size and ability to win in press coverage could allow him to be the team’s top red zone target following the speed and crisp route running skills cemented by Allen. Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams are excellent complimentary pieces that will allow the Chargers offense to be more multi-dimensional this season.

The offensive line is finally in a strong state following a carousel of rotational depth players rather than full-time starters. With the offseason signing of Mike Pouncey, the Chargers finally have some stability to create larger running lanes up the middle. Second-year guards Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp are expected to have large roles this season, especially Lamp who missed all of last season. The 2017 second-round draft pick out of Western Kentucky was praised for his excellent footwork and controlled hand movement in the run game.

Add on Joe Barksdale and Russell Okung as decent tackles and the Chargers offense is finally set.

The defense is filled with playmakers at every level of the field. Joey Bosa is looking to compete for his first Defensive Player of the Year award following his first trip to the Pro-Bowl. Add in establish pass rusher Melvin Ingram III on the strong side to give the Chargers a powerful punch coming from either side to cause havoc in any offense’s backfield.

While defensive tackle Corey Liuget will miss the first four games due to his involvement with PEDS, the Chargers have been in talks with former Giants and Colts defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins. Hankins could hold down the fort during Luiget’s suspension and later compete with nose tackle Brandon Mebane for reps down the line.

In the back seven, the Chargers defense added one of the most versatile playmakers from the 2018 NFL Draft with their selection of Florida State star Derwin James. James’ abilities as a rangy tackler in the run game but rapid growth in coverage makes him the team’s Swiss-army knife. You can expect to see this year’s 17th overall selection line up at multiple positions around the field depending on the offensive formation. He’ll find a way to standout no matter where he’s lining up.

Finally, let’s talk about perhaps the most underrated player in the league today. Cornerback Casey Hayward has been one of the league’s top defenders for three straight seasons, but fails to receive the same type of respect as the Jacksonville JaguarsJalen Ramsey or Los Angeles Rams’ Marcus Peters. Since joining the Bolts in 2016, the 28-year-old has collected 11 interceptions along with 42 pass deflections in coverage, leading both categories among all active defensive players.

With an established offense and slowly rising defense, the Bolts have every right to feel confident heading into the season as perhaps the “top dogs” of the AFC West. Stack them up with every other team in their division and they sweep the competition. As long as Philip Rivers remains under center, the Chargers path back to the postseason is as clear as the water at Santa Monica State Beach.

That’s the kicker though. As long as Rivers stays healthy.

Through three preseason games, the Chargers potential backups to the future Hall of Fame quarterback have shown little growth as potential signal-callers for the Chargers offense. However, both Geno Smith and Cardale Jones do fit the bill of Lynn’s mobile quarterback mold he had/preferred while with the Buffalo Bills.

There’s a difference, however, between being a mobile quarterback and a scrambler. Lynn’s mobile quarterbacks need to be able to survey the field outside the pocket while looking for a running lane to keep the drive alive if unable to find an open target. A scrambler is running for his life due to poor offensive line play and consistent pressure collapsing the pocket.

Case in point; take option A. Always take option A.

The first-team offensive line is sound-proof heading into Kansas City should either Geno Smith or Cardale Jones have to suit up due to the football gods wanting to curse the Chargers a little bit more with the injury bug. Both Jones and Smith came from offenses that allowed them to use their legs to extend plays while allowing things to set up downfield.

Slight problem; that was college, this is the NFL. Cornerbacks won’t bite on pump passes, linebackers have cleaner footwork and defensive tackles are twice as fast off the snap as they plow into the backfield.

Actually, let’s give some praise before bashing the quarterbacks for their inabilities to command a second-team offense.

This preseason, Smith has looked light-years ahead of Jones under center. The former Jets and Giants quarterback might look flustered at times but has still been able to keep drives alive and help the Chargers score.

Smith has gone 27-of-42 for 348 passing yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions through the first three contests. Are the numbers great? No. Are they as bad as Jones’? Far from it.

The former Ohio State legend who led the Buckeyes to their first National Championship since 2014 has been abysmal this preseason. Unable to connect with his receivers, being flustered in the pocket, a lack of drive in critical situations; these could be considered some of the top highlights to Jones’ camp.

In three games, the 25-year-old quarterback has gone 10-of-19 for 148 passing yards. While he hasn’t thrown an interception, he still hasn’t found the end zone either. Let’s just call it a mediocre preseason and move on from it.

Thursday night’s action will be previewed as a “fierce” or “competitive” or “insert your describing verb here” battle between the two competitors for the right to back up Rivers in 2018.

Let’s just cut to the chase because, well, there’s no reason to get frustrated on a game day such as today. Neither are solid options but if you have to pick one of the lesser evils, Smith is the guy every time. Jones has been unable to show any growth since joining the Chargers from Buffalo last season. His lack of arm strength and inability to extend drives are problems that can’t be fixed overnight even by the best minds in football.

That’s putting it nicely for you folks with delicate ears, as well.

While Smith might win the battle, he might not win the war. With rosters being finalized by 4 p.m. EST onz Saturday afternoon, the infamous waiver wire claims could allow the Bolts to add more competition to their quarterback room. Jones will likely be waived, opening space for another face to join the powder blue family.

Suppose you don’t like Smith as the backup to Rivers. Never fear, back ups are here! Let’s take a look at five faces who could be available to come in and perhaps be the long-term QB2 for Rivers this season.

Logan Woodside- Cincinnati Bengals

Woodside led the the nation in 2016 with 45 touchdowns for the Toledo Rockets and capped off his season with a 183.3 passer rating. More of a game-managing style of play, electing for higher completions rather than deep chances, Woodside’s a safe bet with the ability to extend drives down the field both under center and working outside the pocket. His football IQ is strong and his footwork was flawless during college. He could end up working well with Rivers and perhaps even be in the running to take over once Rivers calls it a career. He may not be the biggest quarterback with the biggest arm, but his accuracy is on point as is his knowledge of the game should carry him for awhile.

Joshua Dobbs- Pittsburgh Steelers

Let’s stay in the AFC North and check out another quarterback who fits the Lynn mold.

With the arrival of Mason Rudolph as the potential heir apparent to Big Ben Roethlisberger, a strong showcase against the Carolina Panthers could make him this year’s top trade bait quarterback following Teddy Bridgewater’s move down to the Bayou of New Orleans. Dobbs is also a game manager like Woodside but perhaps with a bit more power. A quicker release and the ability to move outside the pocket, Dobbs fits all the criteria needed to help the Chargers offense stay relevant without Rivers.

The big concern will be his reaction time. This preseason, Dobbs hasn’t been able to show off his arm or speed due to his lack of decision-making under center. It’s an issue he’ll need to fix fast but the IQ and knowledge needed to keep drives alive are there. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that this rocket scientist could be a better option than Smith for the future.

Kyle Sloter- Minnesota Vikings

This is the ideal selection for the Chargers if he becomes available. Sloter’s been a preseason star the past two years. Following an impressive preseason with the Denver Broncos in 2017, the former Northern Colorado quarterback once again showed the NFL his ability to keep team’s alive late in games with excellent play calling and even better throws. This preseason, Sloter has gone 30-of-41 for 243 yards and has thrown three touchdowns. His passer rating is through the roof with an average of 190.9.

With the proper size and mechanics to keep drives moving forward, Sloter should be a top target for the Chargers should the Vikings send him back down to another season on the practice squad. The undrafted passer has proven his worth.

Colin Kaepernick- Free Agent

Put the feelings aside for a second. Lay down your mean comments and political thoughts and open your eyes. While perhaps a controversial signing due to the hype of media that will come flooding in, Kaepernick does fit the mold of what Lynn could want in a quarterback.

Let’s remember that this is the same player who took the San Francisco 49ers back to the Super Bowl just five years ago in his second NFL season. His mobility allows him to move outside the pocket and give his receivers extra time to work upfield to win coverage battles. While not the strongest arm, Kaepernick can still deliver a nice spiral across the middle and fit the ball into fast-closing windows.

Plus, add in his career numbers. The former 49ers quarterback has thrown a career 12,271 passing yards for 72 touchdowns against his 30 interceptions. With a career quarterback rating of 88.9, Kaepernick’s experience, along with quality mechanics, could put him in the running to perhaps head out to Los Angeles this upcoming season.

No matter how you look at the upcoming Chargers season, things are trending upward for the Bolts this year. If everything stays the way it is, expect to be hearing Los Angeles in the conversation of making a trip down to Atlanta for Super Bowl 53 come January.

But if you worry about life after Rivers, make sure you check out every other preseason game Thursday night.

The future is bright in the world of Los Angeles sports, just not with the Chargers backups, at the moment.