SAN DIEGO -- Marty Schottenheimer doesn't usually distribute training camp praise to first-year starters, especially at quarterback.
But the longtime coach didn't hesitate to heap a helping of compliments on his new quarterback, Philip Rivers.
"He might be a little bit ahead" of schedule, Schottenheimer said Wednesday. "He understands this offense completely and he understands how the pieces fit together. He has had a very good camp."
While former starter Drew Brees had to look over his shoulder at Rivers the past two years, there is no one in Rivers' rearview mirror. His backups are veteran A.J. Feeley and rookie Charlie Whitehurst, and neither is given a shot at supplanting Rivers, the fourth overall pick of the 2004 draft.
But Rivers said that isn't a drawback and he's playing as if his job is at stake.
"I think you compete every day with all the quarterbacks and at the same time you compete against yourself and compete against the defense," said Rivers, who has thrown 30 NFL passes. "I'm pushing myself and the coach is pushing me and the other quarterbacks. But I'm my own worst critic. I get after it pretty good."
Rivers comes into camp with zero NFL starts but a bank of NFL knowledge. His comfort level arrives from being in the third year of the Chargers' system.
"I feel like I'm on pace," said Rivers, who has known that he'd be the starter since March, when Brees signed as a free agent with New Orleans. "I got a lot out of the last two years -- it's probably something you can't measure. But I know that if I continue to get reps and practice and those preseason games are only going to help me get better.
"I'm not going to deny the fact that I am going to make mistakes. But I am going to try and keep them to a minimum and the ones I make, correct them from game to game and practice to practice and we should be OK."
Also Wednesday, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, the Chargers' top draft pick, and linebacker Shawne Merriman, the team's No. 1 selection from 2005, didn't practice. Cromartie is nursing a tender ankle and Merriman a sore hamstring. Schottenheimer doesn't anticipate either of them missing an extended period of time.