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NFL Playoffs League - FFL: Preseason | NFL: Week 1

Pro football returns to San Diego, along with tailgating

Sun Feb 17 9:40pm ET
By BERNIE WILSON
AP Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO (AP) Two years after the Chargers left their home of 56 seasons, pro football returned to San Diego on a cold, rainy winter Sunday, with a different dynamic mixed in with a beloved local tradition.

On the field at SDCCU Stadium, the San Diego Fleet of the new Alliance of American Football, coached by San Diegan Mike Martz, played their home opener against the Atlanta Legends on a field drenched by repeated downpours.

Out in the parking lot before the game, tailgaters of all persuasions - Chargers fans, ex-Chargers fans, Los Angeles Rams fans, Fleet fans - huddled under pop-up tents to drink beer, grill meat and enjoy loud music.

Members of the Chargers fan group Bolt Pride set up a tailgate next to the Rams World Order, many of whose members cheered for the Rams before they left for St. Louis after the 1994 season, and then welcomed them back in 2016.

''I'm from San Diego. I've got to represent my town, no matter what,'' said Bolt Pride member Jorge Santiesteban, 38. ''There's disappointment that the Chargers left. I hate the owner of the team, you know what I mean? There's nothing I can do. A lot of people stayed on board, a lot of people didn't. I did. I've still got my season tickets. I support them 100 percent.''

The Rams World Order fans were here to support Martz, who was with the Rams when they moved to St. Louis and was their offensive coordinator when ''The Greatest Show on Turf'' won the Super Bowl after the 1999 season, and receivers coach Az-Zahir Hakim, a former player with the Rams and San Diego State.

''It's all about football,'' said Michael Martinez of Lake Elsinore, president of Rams World Order. ''It's kind of sad with the San Diego Chargers leaving for L.A., but it's nice that San Diego has another football team. We're here to represent, we're here supporting Mike Martz, Az Hakim.

Fellow Rams World Order member Greg Hill of San Diego said he was living in Orange County when the Rams, who at the time played in Anaheim, left for St. Louis.

''We feel their pain,'' he said, referring to fans of the San Diego Chargers who have declined to support them in L.A. ''Our team left us before coming back.''

There has been plenty of angst in San Diego since the Chargers left, with some ex-fans hating on those who continue to support the Bolts.

There was no such angst in the parking lot Sunday as everyone's common goal was to try to stay dry and have fun.

Shawn P. Walchef, owner of the popular Cali Comfort barbecue restaurant in suburban Spring Valley who has remained a Chargers season-ticket holder, hosted a birthday tailgate for radio talk show host Scott Kaplan, who started the Chargers Hater Club when the team bailed.

''We're all here for the Fleet,'' Walchef said. ''We all love football, we all love pro sports, we all love tailgating. That's why we're here.''

Walchef understands the hate and the spite, and said San Diegans have the right to be upset with the way Chargers owner Dean Spanos left town. But he said he'd never tell anyone who they should cheer for.

''It's weird to see more anti-Chargers fans attacking Chargers fans than vice versa, than we ever used to fight with the Raiders, which is weird,'' he said. ''I can't believe there's a fan base that actually has 32 NFL teams cheering against them, because you have the former fans. It's not just 31 teams, it's 32.''

The rain probably kept many fans away. At the start of the game - the AAF did away with kickoffs - there might have roughly 9,000 fans in the 70,000-seat stadium, although there might have been more in the clubs and concourses.

Former Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, who splits his time between San Diego and L.A., was at the game.

''You still have a ton of people down here who love football, even when the NFL is not going on,'' Merriman said. ''They're hungry for football. I was in San Antonio for the opening weekend and it was rocking. It shows you that people love to watch football all year long.''

The Alliance, co-founded by Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian and TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol, is the latest alternative league. While others failed, this one has strong NFL connections and is full of players who hope to get a shot at the big time.

The Chargers had a scout in the press box.

Player Notes
Larry Fitzgerald Jul 16 10:50pm ET

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been impressed with the tempo of new head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense. The Cardinals ranked 20th in the league in pace (time between plays) in neutral situations last year, but that is expected to change drastically in 2019. Fitzgerald said the new offense contains less verbiage that when Bruce Arians was the head coach, and players are expected to process pre-snap adjustments faster. It means that Arizona's skill players should see more bulk this year, which is good for their fantasy value. The offense will ebb and flow based on how rookie quarterback Kyler Murray fares, but the early returns are very promising.

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Drew Lock Jul 16 10:50pm ET

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Boston Scott Jul 16 4:50pm ET

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Aaron Rodgers Jul 16 4:50pm ET

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is looking to bounce back to his previous MVP form this season. Last season was the first season since 2008 where the Packers have missed out on the playoffs when he played 16 games. Rodgers played through the season with a significant injury, with a tibial plateau fracture and sprained a medial collateral ligament. Rodgers has been working hard to learn the new offense, the first time in his entire career. Surrounding Rodgers with coaching talent is one thing, but in order to bounce back, he will hope that the surrounding skill players on the roster are able to also be looking to bounce back to being one of the most potent offenses in the league.

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Roc Thomas Jul 16 4:40pm ET

Minnesota Vikings running back Roc Thomas has been suspended three games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Thomas had just eight carries during his rookie season and is buried behind Dalvin Cook and rookie Alexander Mattison on the team's depth chart, so the suspension doesn't really mean much for his already nonexistent fantasy stock. Thomas remains at best the team's third back and at worse a preseason roster cut, though in that scenario the suspension will make it harder for me to latch onto another team's roster.

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Marcedes Lewis Jul 16 4:40pm ET

Green Bay Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis is looking to expand on his blocking role this season. Lewis is currently one of the team's most senior players on a young roster and was the only one of the 11 unrestricted free agents the Packers re-signed this offseason. New head coach Matt LaFleur said earlier this offseason that the team wants to expand the role he plays in the offense. Lewis will be unlikely to be a player with fantasy value. However, fantasy owners should monitor the situation as it may impact the value of fellow tight end Jimmy Graham.

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Aaron Jones Jul 16 4:40pm ET

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones is likely to be the team's bell cow running back this season. The Packers invested in the running back position, selecting Dexter Williams in the sixth round, but that is unlikely to impact the opportunity that Jones is going to be given this season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers commented in the spring that it was important to have a positive run game, all of which points to Jones being given the opportunity to be the lead back. One concern will be the health of Jones, having three knee injuries in his first two years in the league, finishing both seasons on injured reserve. If he is able to stay healthy there is no reason why Jones shouldn't be able to record his first 1,000 yard season for the Packers.

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Jimmy Graham Jul 16 4:30pm ET

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Marquez Valdes-Scantling Jul 16 4:20pm ET

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Ryan Switzer Jul 16 3:00pm ET

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Dwayne Haskins Jul 16 1:30pm ET

Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins will have to prove himself in training camp in order to earn the Week 1 start over Case Keenum, but his coaches like what they've seen so far. Per Kyle Melnick of Redskins.com, offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell has been impressed with Haskins's work ethic. O'Connell is used to the slow learning curve inherent in rookies, but Haskins has somewhat broken that mold. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise after Haskins led all of college football in passing yards and passing touchdowns in his only season as a starter. It's also worth noting that Melnick mentions Urban Meyer praising Haskins as "the most accurate passer he's coached." While it will take a considerable leap forward for Haskins to earn the starting job in Washington, he's off to a good start this spring and summer.

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Julian Edelman Jul 16 1:40am ET

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Julio Jones Jul 16 12:10am ET

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Julio Jones Jul 16 12:00am ET

The Atlanta Falcons and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett agreed to a four-year contract extension on Monday. The contract is expected to be worth $68 million with $38 million guaranteed, according to a source. He was initially set to receive the $15.209 million franchise tag if a deal wasn't worked out by Monday. The team can now move on to extensions for receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Deion Jones. The Falcons and Deion Jones' representation will meet face-to-face on Wednesday. Jarrett, a fifth-round pick in 2015, has been a top defender for Atlanta and had 53 total pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. He also had six sacks, three forced fumbles and a team-high 16 QB hits.

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Andy Isabella Jul 15 11:50pm ET

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Alex Smith Jul 15 11:50pm ET

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Phillip Lindsay Jul 15 11:40pm ET

Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (wrist) said the training staff will determine the repetitions he gets at training camp, but "in my mind I'm ready. I'm 100 percent," Lindsay said. He should be ready for Week 1, barring a setback this summer. Lindsay was one of the most pleasant surprises in his rookie season after going undrafted. The 24-year-old became Denver's go-to back and finished with 192 attempts for 1.037 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 35 passes for 241 yard and another score. His stock is obviously way up going into his second season, but he'll still have to remain effective to hold off a push from Royce Freeman.

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Royce Freeman Jul 15 11:40pm ET

In 2018, Phillip Lindsay had 192 carries to fellow rookie Royce Freeman's 130, but Justin Adams of CBS 4 believes that that may change in 2019. Lindsay is recovering from a wrist injury and has yet to participate in offseason activities with the team, which Adams believes has put Freeman in a position to potentially wind up as Denver's lead back. That's the role Freeman was initially drafted to play before Lindsay broke out in the preseason, so it wouldn't be a shock to see Freeman assert himself more in 2019. Keep an eye on the situation, as it could lead to Lindsay losing fantasy value while Freeman gains some.

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