Reporters' Notebook

Rams, Chargers figuring out L.A.; is DeShone Kizer the one?

With the 2017 regular season getting ever closer,'s network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

» Dontari Poe's impact in Atlanta.

» Why DeShone Kizer has Jim Brown excited.

» Justin Britt's decision to support Michael Bennett.

But first, Steve Wyche digs into the L.A. showdown between the Rams and Chargers ...

Upon their arrival in Los Angeles from San Diego this spring, the Chargers started a "Fight for L.A." campaign, which seemingly was a bold challenge to the Rams, who'd entered the market a year earlier.

The Rams' return from St. Louis to L.A., which hadn't had an NFL team for 21 years, started with a splash in 2016, but a brutal 4-12 season that cost coach Jeff Fisher his job soured part of a base the Chargers appeared to be trying to lure.

The Rams and Chargers will share a new stadium in Inglewood beginning in 2020 -- a stadium being built and paid for by Rams owner Stan Kroenke -- so appearing to swipe fans instead of creating and nurturing their own in a greater metropolitan area of more than 15 million didn't seem like a great way to start a partnership.

The Chargers say they weren't throwing down the gauntlet with their marketing approach. They are fighting for their slice of L.A.'s entertainment market pie, according to A.G. Spanos, president of the club's business operations.

"L.A. is a crowded market, and we have to fight for our niche," Spanos said. "It was totally misconstrued if it was taken [as a challenge to the Rams]. The fight for L.A. is all about the hearts and minds of the L.A. sports fan, regardless of other teams and organizations."

The Rams had a year's head start on the Chargers. Despite last season's dreadful on-field product, they rekindled fan interest from when the team used to play in Southern California before moving to St. Louis after the 1994 season. By doing major work at the grassroots level, they found fans that had never been to a pro game before. Their flag was firmly planted in Los Angeles.

"The support we had last year was great, and the excitement people have had around the Chargers as well is great," said Kevin Demoff, Rams chief operating officer. "What's most important is that we both place a premium on cultivating fans and growing fans and making sure that the fan experience is there for when we get to Inglewood."

The Chargers play the Ramsin Week 3 of the preseason Saturday, in their first meeting since the NFL returned to Los Angeles. They did hold joint practices in training camp -- and things got heated. Some players apparently took the fight for L.A. thing seriously.

The game will take place in the historic L.A. Coliseum, which can hold more than 90,000 -- or three times more than the quaint StubHub Center, which the Chargers will call home until the new stadium opens in, according to Demoff, the late spring or early summer of 2020.

In terms of capacity, StubHub Center, home to Major League Soccer's L.A. Galaxy and located in Carson, about 16 miles south of L.A., maxes out around 27,000. In two homepreseason games, the Chargers have drawn an average of less than 22,000. That's a staggeringly low figure for the NFL -- it's more like a Friday Night Lights-style high school crowd. It has been the talk of preseason football in L.A. thus far. But the boutique environment has been widely applauded by players from the Chargers, Seahawks and Saints who have played there.

"I love this," Chargers tackle Russell Okung told me. "There is nothing like this. The fans are right here. This has to be great for them."

The sightlines, suites and some other details make watching the Chargers at home more like watching Bruno Mars at a nightclub instead of at, well, the L.A. Coliseum.

The catch: ticket prices. As of Wednesday this week, the cheapest available ticket for the Chargers' Oct. 1 game vs. the Eagles at StubHub Center went for around $250. By comparison, the cheapest available ticket for the Rams' Dec. 10 game vs. the Eagles at the Coliseum went for $56. The views and ambiance will be different, but so will the hit to the bank account. Still, it's the only way, over the next three seasons, the Chargers can stay somewhat financially viable playing in the NFL's smallest venue.

There's also this: When both clubs move into the stadium in Inglewood in three years, it is projected that Chargers ticket buyers will be paying around the same amount they are paying now. Rams supporters are projected to get hit with a price spike, per a source with knowledge of the situation.

"We can be competitive," Spanos said. "The great thing about StubHub is the premium opportunities. One of the things that attracted us were the suites and a stadium club. A lounge right off the players' entry tunnel. We've added field-level seating. We're excited with what the premium experiences can bring."

The Chargers have yet to sell all of their premium seating, but they just started selling a lot of that product roughly a month ago. That's a pitfall of relocating, and it's something the Rams learned last season: You simply can't have everything covered.

"We have had a year to reflect on games in the Coliseum and how your organization functions in L.A.," Demoff said. "You can make informed decisions on how to get fans in and out of your stadium, what kind of concessions work best, a lot of those little things. Last year, we were just trying to catch our breath and put on a game in a new stadium and build a new practice facility and have a training camp. Now we make improvements and lay foundations for strong, future growth."

That, most importantly, is about putting a product on the field that fans want to see. Neither the Chargers nor the Rams did that last season, with the teams combining for nine wins and 23 losses.

On paper, the Chargers have a chance to be very good this season, with a roster that boasts quarterback Philip Rivers, running back Melvin Gordon, tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, wide receiver Keenan Allen and defensive studs Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.

"Winning is going to help the most," said John Spanos, Chargers president of football operations. "That is the most important thing. Our whole approach is, nothing is given to you. You have to earn everything that you get. But we came into this to authentically grow our fan base. That's going to take time and a lot of hard work."

Time. It's what players like Rivers (35 years old) and Gates (37) don't have. There's the question of whether either will ever take a snap in the new stadium in Inglewood. If they do, will either have much left?

The Rams, on the other hand, are young and have a nucleus of players projected to be in their prime when they get into a permanent stadium -- and the same could be said for 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay. The jury is still out on quarterback Jared Goff and, to some degree, 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley, who took a step back last season. But with veteran Andrew Whitworth brought in to help a leaky offensive line and wide receiver Sammy Watkins acquired in a trade recently to give Goff a legit No. 1 target, there is both short- and long-term potential. Holdout defensive tackle Aaron Donald will be back in the mix at some point to anchor a talented unit now led by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

There might be a fight going on for L.A., but the fight for respectability is the real battle facing both the Rams and Chargers.


ATLANTA FALCONS: Dontari Poe a veteran amongst youngsters. One of the Atlanta Falcons' biggest moves this offseason -- and we do mean biggest -- involved the free-agent signing of defensive tackle Dontari Poe. The Falcons hope Poe, at 6-foot-3 and 330 pounds, can team with fellow tackle Grady Jarrett to give them a stronger interior push to go with the speed of outside rushers like Vic Beasley. They're also asking Poe to be more of a disruptive force than he was in Kansas City, where he was asked to do more reading and reacting. The Chiefs let the two-time Pro Bowler walk in free agency after five years with the franchise, but his new team likes everything it's seen so far.

"He's a hard worker," said Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones. "He has a love for the game and he grinds it out. That's how we all are over there. He's been really good at pushing Grady and making each other better, so we should be stronger up front."

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CLEVELAND BROWNS: DeShone Kizer inspiring hope. On the day the Browns announced rookie quarterback DeShone Kizerwill start their third preseason game, I bumped into a guy who knows all too well that 26 starting QBs have come and gone since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999.

Jim Brown -- the legendary Browns running back who's now a special adviser and sat next to owner Jimmy Haslam at Monday night's exhibition against the New York Giants -- said he likes Kizer. Likes him arm. Likes his legs. When I told Brown that Kizer will start Saturday at Tampa Bay, Brown smiled and said: "I don't think he can hurt us."

Coach Hue Jackson stopped short of naming Kizer the starter for Week 1 against Pittsburgh. But Jackson also made clear it's "trending in that direction" -- i.e., away from veteran Brock Osweiler, whom the Brownshave been trying to trade and offering to eat half his salary (at least) from the moment they acquired him back in March.

A second-round draft pick, Kizer is getting his shot to end the quarterback misery here -- and it has been miserable. Last season alone, three QBs made starts and five saw action. Hard to fault Brown or anyone else for wanting to believe the 27th quarterback will be the one.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Justin Britt explains his decision to back Michael Bennett. Last Friday night, during the observance of the national anthem at CenturyLink Field before the Seahawks' preseason matchup with the Vikings, we saw social protest -- and, according to Seahawks star defensive end Michael Bennett, social progress. Yes, the headline story was Justin Britt's symbolic show of support, placing his hand on the shoulder of the seated Bennett as Bennett continued his season-long national-anthem protest to further the fight against racism and the social injustices caused by it. But what happened two nights before, between Britt -- who is white -- and his wife, was the perfect example of the change Bennett -- who earlier last week called for a white player to protest -- is hoping to effect.

"We agree that things that happened in Charlottesville, the things that are going on right now are not acceptable," Bennett said. "And to be able to have [Britt] do that ... I think it'll give a lot of other players courage to move forward and keep trying to share that message of love and that message of unity."

"It was something me and my wife talked about and discussed, and we both wanted to show support to Mike, and I talked to him before, made sure it was alright with him, and of course it was," Britt told me. "I feel like what I did, I believe in it, and I will continue to educate myself and try to understand why things are going on."

The battle has no scoreboard -- as Bennett said, "It's not like football, where I can say he had 1,000 yards, so that was a great season. It's hard to see the impact." But getting Britt, who grew up in a much different environment in Missouri than Bennett did in Texas, to bring the conversation home and have a meaningful discussion with his wife and decide to take action as a result, is the measure of progress Bennett is hoping to see, knowing not everyone will agree with his message or his method of delivery.

"I think that's a start; what [Britt] does will be a ripple effect to other people that might be cautious of having those conversations," Bennett told me after the game. "To try to make a change says a lot about Justin's character."

Both Bennett and Britt come from military families and insist their demonstrations are in no way meant to disrespect the military. But they're also prepared for the backlash and criticism they will continue to face, with Britt even acknowledging he might consider joining Bennett in sitting during the anthem if racial tensions, he says, get worse before they get better.

"You can say it's leadership, but I just did it because I support Mike ... seeing things that are happening around the world that aren't right," Britt said, when I asked if this was the leadership Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was referring to when explaining why the Seahawksrecently extended Britt's contract. "I just felt like I wanted to take a stand and be with Mike, and hopefully what I do encourages others to go out and look at it, and really see what's going on and not just be blind to it."

As a team, the Seahawks are still trying to figure out a way to demonstrate their support for Bennett during the anthem, while observing the sacredness with which many people view the flag. Last season, they linked arms during the anthem. However, I was told by one member of the team's leadership committee that there are no guarantees they'll do anything as a group during the anthem this season.

"We want the focus, not so much on the demonstrations, but on the actions and the meaning behind them," the player said.

And while the Seahawks are expected to command attention all season with their play on the field, this issue might help put to rest much of the offseason talk about potential division in their locker room. It could bring a tight unit even closer together, with Britt telling me he hopes more of his teammates join him in publicly supporting Bennett throughout the season.

"I encourage them," Britt said. "If they don't want to, I encourage them to dig into it and try to educate themselves, not pick sides but just understand it and go from there."

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TENNESSEE TITANS: One area of improvement for Marcus Mariota? Quarterback Marcus Mariota has been so impressive in his first two seasons that it's becoming harder to find things to nitpick about his game. However, head coach Mike Mularkey said there is one area where he'd like to see more growth from his third-year quarterback: audibles.

"I'd like to see him advance even more in getting us into the right plays at the line," Mularkey said. "He's very capable of doing that. We give him options in play calls, but maybe even more so this year, if he sees something that he thinks isn't working, he has to get us out of that. He can do that."

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