Mike McCoy wasn’t interested in hearing the end of the question.
No, Philip Rivers’ age is not an issue in San Diego, the Chargers coach politely but forcefully said, snuffing out a reporter’s query mid-sentence.
“I wouldn’t know if (Rivers is 34), I didn’t know his age,” McCoy said earlier this month after a Chargers training camp practice. “He looks great. … He’s the same player he’s always been. He’s terrific.”
McCoy then himself took an opportunity to ask a question.
“You saw him today, did you see (an older quarterback)?” asked the noted quarterback guru, who is entering his fourth season as San Diego’s head coach.
“No, not at all,” was the response.
McCoy shook his head.
OK, fair enough, there goes that angle. The reality is Rivers, a dean of the AFC West who is entering his 13th season in the NFL and his 11th as a starter, will turn 35 in December. Yet, it is crystal clear McCoy and the Chargers don’t feel like they are fighting time at their most important position.
San Diego is operating under the plan their quarterback has several years remaining to play and he certainly won’t be fighting age in 2016.
When told of his head coach’s firm support of him still very much being in his prime, the always cooperative and expansive Rivers giggled. And yes, he agrees with his coach. His age isn’t an issue or determent.
Rivers said he feels terrific this summer and he attributed that to the fact he ended 2015 healthy unlike the 2014 season when he was beaten up and was a mess, after turning 33. Because of his good health last season, Rivers said he was able to enjoy a healthy spring, which enabled him to prepare for 2016.
“I really feel as good as I have in years,” Rivers said. “That’s a good feeling going into a season we’re really excited about.”
In addition to his physical health, Rivers said he hopes the Chargers are an overall young team. Yes, their quarterback is aging, Rivers said, but working with young players helps his game.
“We have a lot of young guys, in their third to sixth season. I really like that makeup,” Rivers said. “It’s kind of rejuvenated me. We have a swagger. It’s going to be fun to see what type of personality this team has.”
There is, of course, a strong chance the young-ish Chargers (a disappointing, injury-fueled 4-12 last season after having two winning years under McCoy) adopt the personality of their old-ish quarterback. Rivers is full of spunk and vigor. There are few more fiery quarterbacks in the league.
While his teammates keep Rivers feeling young, his presence keeps the Chargers hopeful for the future. That is why the Chargers brass extended Rivers’ contract last August. The deal was for a reported $84 million that will keep him with the Chargers through the 2019 season.
Rivers will be 39 by the time his contract expires. It’s clear when the Chargers made the deal last year they felt confident Rivers will still be a starting-quality quarterback by that time. That appears to be to a logical point to re-assess Rivers both physically and in his performance.
Yet, it makes sense why the Chargers feel like they will still be getting prime Rivers for the immediate future.
Rivers has been consistent and prolific through his career. Supporting McCoy’s point that Rivers is nowhere near taking a step back is his recent seasons have been just as strong as his years in his late 20s, the usual quarterback prime-years zone.
Rivers threw for 4,792 yards, 29 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions in 2015. It was his highest yardage total in five years and his touchdown totals were better than in 2011 and 2012.
There is little doubt Rivers is still playing at a high level. The Chargers are also excited that Rivers can put up a big year because he is working under Ken Whisenhunt as his offensive coordinator again.
Rivers’ game elevated in 2013 under Whisenhunt and McCoy. Whisenhunt parlayed his start stint in San Diego into the head-coaching gig in Tennessee in 2014. He was fired during last season and the Chargers jumped on the chance to get him back with Rivers.
Count Arizona defensive lineman Calais Campbell among those who believes Rivers is still at the top of his game. During a recent scrimmage between the Chargers and Cardinals, Campbell teased Rivers by saying “man, you’re too old to be moving that fast.’”
Surely, McCoy chuckled when he heard that one.