Ready or not: Joe Burrow era begins vs Joey Bosa, Chargers
By JOE KAY
CINCINNATI (AP) On the other side of Ohio, Joe Burrow's parents are trying to arrange a way to watch their son's NFL debut amid the pandemic precautions.
"They're trying to figure it out right now because when we're in Athens, we get the West Virginia news channel," Burrow said midweek. "They don't televise the Bengals games. We're trying to get maybe a different TV provider in there.
"I'm leaving that to them."
The Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at LSU is preoccupied with something else this week. Burrow will start against the Chargers on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium without even one snap in an NFL game.
Ready or not, the Burrow era begins in front of empty seats because of COVID-19 precautions. Family and fans will be watching the highly anticipated debut on television - well, maybe.
Burrow is the only rookie to start an NFL game this week, in part because of the shrunken offseason preparations. Practices were reduced and preseason games eliminated because of the pandemic.
It's a tough spot for any rookie, especially a quarterback who's already been voted a team captain and is seen as the best chance in some time to pull Cincinnati out of its 29-year drought without a playoff win.
First, he's got to get used to being hounded by NFL defenses that are stacked with more talent, speed and variations than he's ever faced at one time. And it's all going to be aimed at him.
It won't be all new, though.
"He was my scout team quarterback at Ohio State, so he is used to being chased by me," Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa said.
Although the Chargers rely on their defensive line anchored by Bosa and Melvin Ingram III to get pressure on quarterbacks, they're expected to throw some different things at a rookie quarterback in his first experience.
"I don't care if you've been playing 50, 20 or one year, we've got the same mentality, and that's to get the quarterback," Ingram said. "We're not going to change our mentality just because of the amount of years you've been in this league."
AJ'S HAPPY RETURN
Bengals receiver A.J. Green missed all last season with an ankle injury suffered during the first practice of training camp. He failed to come to agreement on a long-term deal in the offseason, and the Bengals used their franchise tag to keep him for one more year. Green has accepted the tag - which he initially resisted - and is eager to show he's still one of the league's best.
"It's just been a rocky road, man, but I wouldn't have it no other way," Green said. "It just keeps pushing me to be the best, fighting through adversity and keep pushing. That's who I am."
WHO TO THROW TO?
Chargers receiver Mike Williams is coming off his first 1,000-yard season but is questionable because of a shoulder injury he suffered during a scrimmage two weeks ago. Los Angeles is lacking depth behind Keenan Allen and Williams with the next experienced receiver having only three catches. If Williams is unable to play, running back Austin Ekeler might be split out more as a receiver while tight end Hunter Henry will be counted on more.
Cornerback Chris Harris makes his Chargers debut and will be tasked with matching up against Green. The cornerbacks will have added pressure this season with safety Derwin James lost to a knee injury. The Chargers also hope Harris helps them generate more turnovers. They had a league-low 14 takeaways last season.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
Both left tackles are in the spotlight. Los Angeles' Sam Tevi moves from right tackle but has struggled in pass protection. Cincinnati's Jonah Williams gets his first NFL playing time after missing all of his rookie season because of a shoulder injury.
CUTOUTS INSTEAD OF FANS
Because of Ohio's COVID-19 restrictions, fans aren't permitted for the season opener. Instead, the Bengals offered fans a chance to buy cutouts that would be arranged in the seats. The Bengals and Chargers are accustomed to playing in front of small crowds, finishing second-to-last and last in the NFL in home attendance last season. Cincinnati drew an average of only 47,179 fans at 65,515-seat Paul Brown Stadium. The Chargers drew 31,750 fans to the soccer stadium that was their temporary home the past three years.
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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Updated September 10, 2020