Football: Three Big Things that We Learned from the Fleet’s 15-6 Loss to San Antonio


The Fleet Prepares for their Home Opener against the Atlanta Legends next Sunday

By Jeff Goldberg

The first game in The Alliance of American Football is in the books for the San Diego Fleet.

It was a difficult night as the Fleet struggled to generate offense in the 15-6 loss to the Commanders in San Antonio, resulting in a change at quarterback.

Here are three things we learned about the opener, as the Fleet begin to prepare for their home opener next Sunday against the Atlanta Legends at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT on NFL Network.

1. Kurt Warner’s 1999 season looks even more amazing now

It was a vintage Rams-Fest at the Alamodome on Saturday, with Mike Martz and Az-Zahir Hakim coaching on the Fleet sideline and their former QBs Kurt Warner and Trent Green handling TV duties for CBS.

Undoubtedly, Warner and Green could feel Mike Bercovici’s pain — and not just because of that hit by Shaan Washington early in the game. Bercovici learned the hard way just how difficult it is to master Martz’s intricate offensive schemes, which has its roots in the San Diego teachings of coaching savants Sid Gillman and Don Coryell.

After his second interception late in the third quarter, Martz replaced Bercovici with Philip Nelson, then named Nelson the starter for next Sunday’s home-opener.

One of the reasons Martz has the former East Carolina quarterback on the Fleet roster is their participation in the 2017 NFLPA Collegiate All-Star Bowl. Martz coached Nelson in that game and Nelson operated the controls smartly, completing 11 of 18 passes for over 100 yards and scoring on a 1-yard run, earning effusive praise from Martz after that game.

I think Philip can be a starter in (the NFL), I’m convinced of it,” Martz said. “He has no flaws. After being with him all week long, I’m singing his praises. Someone is going to get a gem with this young man, he makes all the throws. He has leadership and presence that’s highly unusual. He’s athletic, smart (and) he picked everything up.”

After Saturday’s game, Martz again cited Nelson’s proficiency in running the offense in the NFLPA game as a major factor in making the in-game quarterback switch a permanent one. He also loved the poise Nelson showed in the scrimmage against Orlando on January 27.

“Nelson in the practice game, I thought he played exceptional,” Martz said. “I loved his composure. Some of the throws he made under duress were exceptional.”

Martz stressed that the demotion is not a knock on Bercovici, just an acknowledgement that the former Chargers prospect is still trying to learn the ropes of the offense. Martz even conceded prior to Saturday’s game that although he was the named starter, Bercovici was probably still about two weeks away from truly mastering the offense. That education will continue.

It all just puts Warner’s 1999 NFL MVP season in even more perspective, after being thrown into the starting job just before the start of the season after Green’s knee injury. Talk about a fast learner.

2. Bet on it: It’s all about the line

It was true in the January 27 scrimmage against Orlando and it remained true on Saturday night: The Fleet will only go as far as the offensive line will take them.

The first series of Saturday’s game told the whole story. When Bercovici had time on his first two pass attempts, he connected for gains of 18 and 32 yards.

But the first time San Antonio burst through, in the person of Washington, Bercovici was in deep trouble. The Fleet allowed six sacks, and two in particular took the Fleet out of potential field-goal range.

The loss of starting center Jeremiah Kolone, who directs protections and handles all the line’s pre-snap calls, to an ankle injury late in the week in practice did not help matters, especially given the precious little time the line has had to come together as a cohesive unit.

Martz is confident that time will come sooner rather than later.

We just couldn’t get any rhythm going, and something bad would happen,” Martz said. “I like where we are. The things that hurt us tonight, we can fix.”

3. Dontez Ford may never drop another pass

OK, that’s probably a jinx right there (sorry, Dontez), but after hauling in all three of his targets for 56 yards, Ford is now 15-for-15, including the scrimmage on January 27. Martz has said the versatility of his offense is going to be key, and it showed in the distribution of pass targets.

Ten different players had at least one target and nine had at least three.

Press Release Provided By the Alliance Football League