SAN DIEGO — The No. 2 quarterback job on the Chargers isn't much different from being vice president. Half the people don't know you exist, and the only time you are called upon to show your stuff is when something is wrong with the top guy.
Still, it's a job, and it attracts competition, even if it tends to be of the sort where the candidates eliminate themselves through incompetence.
The Charger vacancy came about when Ed Luther, the incumbent for the last five years, signed a four-year, $2.4 million contract with Jacksonville of the United States Football League.
The heir apparent was Bruce Mathison, who had almost no experience, but had been around for two years, soaking up the atmosphere and some of the playbook.
Mathison handled himself capably in his first two opportunities in exhibition games against Cleveland and Dallas, but he lost his touch last Saturday at San Francisco, completing only 10 of 29 passes, with two fumbles and two interceptions.
Because of his problems, the No. 3 man, Mark Herrmann, suddenly rose from the scrap heap and will get a chance to win the job Friday night against New Orleans.
Herrmann, a fifth-year pro from Purdue, where he set nine NCAA records, has not taken a snap in a game this summer, and hasn't even been used much in practice.
The last game he played, in fact, was against the Chargers last November, when he was with the Indianapolis Colts. Herrmann completed 18 of 32 passes for 222 yards in that game.
The Chargers acquired him from the Colts in March, and promptly seemed to forget about him. For all intents and purposes, the No. 2 job seemed to have been awarded to Mathison, almost by default.
Herrmann did the only sane thing he could think of under the circumstances.
He kept his mouth shut and waited for his chance. It isn't much of a chance, granted, but it's all he has.
"I'm confident," Herrmann said Monday. "I feel I can play in the National Football League. I've tried to just hang in there, even though the possibilities seemed a little remote. I easily could have called it quits here and looked for another team, but I'm glad I didn't, because now I have the chance."
Herrmann said his goals against the Saints are to move the team effectively, to throw to the right receivers and to stay poised.
He doesn't pretend to have acquired a mastery of Air Coryell in his limited exposure to it.
"The key to this offense is working day to day on the timing patterns with your receivers," he said. "If you don't have the daily work, it's hard to pick up the offense.
"Under the circumstances, I don't know if this will be a true indication of what I can do, but it's all I can ask at this point."
Herrmann is getting a chance partially because of a slight groin injury to starter Dan Fouts, but primarily because of the poor game by Mathison. Although he is, in effect, trying to compound Mathison's problems, he seemed sympathetic to the young quarterback's tough day at Candlestick Park.
"We've all gone through days like Bruce had," he said. "You get out of rhythm and nothing goes right. It stings for a while."
Herrmann certainly has felt the sting of not producing anything resembling the statistics he amassed in college.
"I've had injuries in the pros and I haven't been in true form," he said. "But there's still hope, I believe. I know I don't have the strongest arm in the league, but I can make up for it with anticipation and timing."
His chance, however limited, to back up that statement comes Friday night. Coach Don Coryell said Monday it hasn't been determined how the playing time will be divided between Mathison and Herrmann.
"I just have to try to put the pressure out of my mind," Herrmann said. "I haven't had many repetitions in practice, but it will have to be enough.
"After they traded for me, I figured they would really give me a good look, but that hasn't been the case. It has been frustrating to wait, but it's nice to get any kind of opportunity."
Under no circumstances, Coryell reiterated, will the Chargers turn to Fouts against New Orleans, or abandon their stripped-down preseason offense.
Fouts was reported to be feeling somewhat better Monday after feeling some pain from his pulled groin on Sunday. Coryell said there is absolutely no question about Fouts being ready for the season-opener against Buffalo on Sept. 8.
The San Diego offense will be a lot better than it has looked once the season begins, according to Coryell, if for no other reason than the full repertoire of formations will be employed.
The Chargers keep it basic in the exhibition season in order to conceal any new wrinkles, and also to make things easier on their young quarterbacks.
Comparing Herrmann with Mathison, Coryell said, "Mark is very intelligent and poised and throws quite well, but Bruce runs better and if Dan got hurt, we could better adjust our offense with Bruce in the lineup."