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San Diego Fleet to face Commanders in rematch of AAF opener

Posted at 7:07 AM, Feb 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-24 10:07:46-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego Fleet will play host to the San Antonio Commanders Sunday at SDCCU Stadium in the second meeting between the Alliance of American Football teams in three weeks.

The Commanders were 15-6 winners in the first meeting Feb. 9 in San Antonio in a game Fleet starting quarterback Mike Bercovici was sacked six times and threw two interceptions in three quarters before being replaced by Philip Nelson.

The 5 p.m. game is a matchup of 1-1 teams. The Fleet defeated the winless Atlanta Legends, 24-12, last Sunday at SDCCU Stadium while San Antonio lost to the Orlando Apollos, 37-29, also last Sunday.

"I really like their players up front," Fleet coach Mike Martz said of the Commanders. "Everything that we do in football starts in the trenches, particularly with the offensive line. That's really a good offensive line. They're very well coached.

"They've got some pass rushers on the outside that you absolutely have to contend with. Defensively, they're very active. They create problems for you."

A victory would give San Antonio a sweep of the season series and the first tiebreaker over the Fleet for a playoff berth.

The winner will tie Arizona (2-1) for the lead in the four-team Western Conference, three games into the AAF's inaugural 10-game regular season.

Nelson is listed as questionable because of a back injury but was able to fully participate in the Fleet's practices Wednesday through Friday, a team official said.

A player is listed as questionable when it is uncertain whether he will play.

Nelson completed 14 of 30 passes for 142 yards with one interception against Atlanta in his first professional start that will most be remembered for one pass that went for a 1-yard loss.

With the Fleet trailing 9-6 and facing a second-and-15 from their own 43-yard line with six minutes, 13 seconds left in the third quarter, Nelson found himself in the grasp of Atlanta defensive end Tyriq McCord.

With his back to the line of scrimmage, Nelson threw the ball over his right shoulder, trying to avoid a sack. It was caught by Fleet tight end Gavin Escobar for a 1-yard loss.

"I was trying to throw the ball away" Nelson said. "When I heard, `Pass completed,' I was like `OK, thank you, God. Next play."

The pass drew the attention of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, selected in a vote conducted by The Associated Press as the NFL's 2018 MVP, who re-tweeted a tweet of the play from ESPN's "SportsCenter," accompanied by the words, "I see I'm going to have to step my game up...!"

The comment was a reference to a no-look pass he threw for a 17-yard gain to Demarcus Robinson in a Dec. 9 game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Martz said he has discussed the play with Nelson.

"We've put that to bed," Martz said. "Hopefully we'll never see that again."

The Commanders also have a key offensive player listed as questionable -- running back Kenneth Farrow II who rushed for the only touchdown in the first game against the Fleet and ran for a game-high 74 yards against Orlando.

A low back injury kept Farrow out of Wednesday's practice, left him a limited participant in Thursday's practice but he was able to fully participate in Friday's practice.

Outside linebacker Shaan Washington will miss Sunday's game because of an ankle injury after starting both of San Antonio's first two games, making two sacks against the Fleet and one against the Apollos.

Matt Godin will miss the game because of a head injury. He made three tackles in the Commanders first three games.

Two Fleet defensive players are listed as questionable.

Starting middle linebacker A.J. Tarpley practiced on a limited basis Wednesday through Friday because of a hip injury, meaning he participated in less than 100 percent of his normal reps.

Reserve free safety Demetrius Wright fully participated in Thursday and Friday's practice after participating on a limited basis Wednesday because of a thigh injury.

Fleet starting cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah will miss his second consecutive game after fracturing a wrist in the Feb. 9 opener.

The Fleet placed guard John Montelus on the reserved/injured list Friday because of a shoulder injury. He was not active for either of their first two games.

The Fleet also announced Friday they had re-signed receiver Kyle Lewis and waived receiver Shay Fields who had been on the reserved/injured list because of a calf injury.

Lewis had been among the players waived Jan. 30 as the Fleet reduced its roster to the 52-player regular-season limit.

The 23-year-old Lewis was a standout at San Marcos High School and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who played in three preseason games with the Green Bay Packers last summer.

The game marks a return to San Diego for Commanders coach Mike Riley, who coached the Chargers to a 14-34 record from 1999-2001.

The Chargers might have had a better record than 5-11 in Riley's final season if the team's management had taken his suggestion to select Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL draft.

"Management had decided we were going to take a quarterback in the draft late as a developmental guy," Riley said during a recent conference call with reporters. "They asked our staff to find some names that would be good candidates. We came up with Todd Husak and Tom Brady.

"I sent one of our coaches to work (Brady) out. When it came right down to them asking on the second day who we wanted, I told them we wanted Tom Brady. We just went in another direction."

New England selected Brady in the sixth round, 15 picks after the Chargers used their choice in the round to pick Shannon Taylor, a linebacker from the University of Virginia who played 11 games with the Chargers and 29 games with two other teams during a four-season NFL career.

Brady quarterbacked the Patriots to the first of their six Super Bowl championships in the 2001 season, Riley's last with the Chargers.

Riley's Chargers stint marked the second time had the opportunity to have coached Brady but decisions by others kept that from happening.

As USC's offensive coordinator, Riley's responsibilities included recruiting players from the San Francisco Bay Area, with Brady, among them.

"I thought we were going to get him," Riley said. "Then unbeknownst to me we committed to another quarterback actually while I was gone to a home visit with the Bradys.

"I went back to the office and coach (John) Robinson told me another quarterback committed and we didn't have room for Brady and I just about fainted because I had recruited him for over a year."