Officially, third-string quarterback Easton Stick has not thrown a pass or played a snap for the Chargers this season. But in his mind he has played in many crucial moments, rolling out of the pocket or capitalizing on the running ability that made him an intriguing prospect while leading four FCS national championship teams at North Dakota State.
Stick, a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, stands on the sideline next to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen during Chargers games and plays out each situation in his head as it unfolds. He thinks about what he’d do if he were the quarterback in those circumstances, evaluates what he sees, and then shares his insights with starter Philip Rivers, backup Tyrod Taylor, and play-caller Steichen.
For Stick, who had his ups and downs in his four preseason appearances and beat out Cardale Jones for the No. 3 spot, it’s the next-best thing to being in a game. He sees it as another important part of his immersive education in what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.
“You’re trying to play the play as best you can, trying to see what the defense is doing, and put yourself in those shoes as best you can,” Stick said. “It is a unique perspective, I think.”
It also gives him a front-row view of the Chargers’ ongoing quarterback debate, a conversation that has gotten louder as Rivers has struggled and the team has faded toward the fringes of playoff contention.
Rivers was intercepted seven times that led to opponents scoring 17 points in the last two games, close losses to Oakland and Kansas City, a stretch that Rivers said was “unlike any two games I can remember having back to back.”
Rivers, who will be 38 on Dec. 8 and has been the Chargers’ starting quarterback since 2006, has participated in 728 offensive snaps this season, according to pro-football-reference.com. Taylor has been involved in nine offensive snaps — one against Indianapolis, seven at Miami, and one at home against Denver on Oct. 6 — and 19 special teams snaps.
Taylor’s only pass attempt was a completion against Miami, for seven yards. He also rushed four times for minus-one yard in that game.
“I don’t plan on having to make that decision,” Lynn said. “I plan on us going and playing our tails off this weekend and getting back in that win column.”
If the Chargers’ already small playoff chances continue to shrink, it would make sense to play Stick so they can analyze what they have and factor that into plans.
At some point Rivers will step down, whether after this season — he’s not under contract beyond that — or perhaps after a season in the new Inglewood stadium, where Rivers indicated he wants to play.
Stick might be their quarterback of the future. He might not. Playing him is the only way to begin to find out.
It’s difficult to judge from preseason play. In four games Stick completed 27 of 46 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown and was intercepted four times. He also had 63 rushing yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
“It was fun, first and foremost, and I think that’s a good thing. This game should be, and you don’t want to lose sight of that,” Stick said. “There’s definitely ups and downs. There’s stuff that was fun and we did well — we moved the football and scored points. And then there’s stuff you go back and watch and it’s, ‘What the heck were you doing?’
“There’s good and bad, and I think the biggest thing is just learning from that, both sides of it, and moving forward.”
The way forward, for him, has included regarding Rivers as a role model.
“You don’t know what you don’t know when you first get here, and so I’ve really just tried to take as much as I can from him and he’s been great,” Stick said. “He’s a great communicator, even if it’s not directly to me, with Tyrod or with coach Shane. Just the communication and how he talks to other guys has been really cool for me to see.
“You watch how people handle adversity, and I think a lot of times that reveals character more than anything else. I think it’s important to watch people in those times. Especially a guy like him, who does everything the right way, treats people the right way all the time, works his tail off, and he’s done that to a tee. It’s been great being around him.”
Rivers hasn’t directly mentored Stick, instead letting the rookie take the initiative to absorb knowledge during their daily sessions in the quarterbacks room.
“Easton works awfully hard at it so he’s picking up all that he wants to pick up. Whatever he wants to pick up is fair game from all of us,” Rivers said. “He’s been great the way he prepares and works at it, the things he finds on the film. He’s been great for the room, and I hope that certainly he’s grown from some of the communication and dialogue he’s had with us in that room.”
Stick was reluctant to project the future to describe where he sees himself a year from now, two years, or five.
“Honestly it’s hard to say. I really don’t let myself think that way,” he said. “I think in order to be your best, you’ve got to be where your feet are at, and right now that’s trying to be the best I can today.”
His feet are on the sideline for now, but his head is in the game.