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Final preseason game is much more than that for second- and third-stringers

Final preseason game is much more than that for second- and third-stringers
Chargers quarterback Cardale Jones throws downfield against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter of a preseason game at StubHub Center in Carson on Saturday. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The game is meaningless for all of the Chargers -- except the ones for whom the game means everything.

When the preseason concludes Thursday at San Francisco, the starters will not play.

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But the backups and those players hoping to back up the backups will participate, some possibly for the final time ever in a NFL uniform.

“It was do or die being undrafted,” Jahleel Addae said, remembering the final game of his first preseason. “Every play you had was crucial … It’s big for the young guys. We’ll be there supporting them.”

Entering his sixth season, Addae joined the Chargers as an unknown out of little-known Central Michigan.

He made four tackles in the 2013 preseason finale, an otherwise forgotten game the Chargers would lose to San Francisco by the completely forgettable score of 41-6.

But Addae also made the roster that night, his play on special teams helping secure a precious spot he continues to hold today.

“I didn’t know my head from my tail at that time,” he recalled. “I was just playing football. I was deep in my playbook and I just wanted to make this team. That was my biggest goal.”

So, as the starters can approach this as almost a bye week -- quarterback Philip Rivers confirmed he will dive into preparation for Kansas City and the season opener -- the would-be reserves are looking at something closer to their Super Bowl.

Other than some lingering health issues, the Chargers don’t have a lot of unanswered questions among their first-stringers. The back end of the roster, however, does have some wiggle room.

“You watch a lot of film so it is kind of like being on a bye,” veteran tight end Virgil Green said. “But, you’re also encouraging the young guys … you’re getting ready but also being there for them because this game is important, too.”

The NFL preseason has become increasingly about keeping key players upright and safe. Rivers played only two quarters this month. Because of a foot injury, defensive end Joey Bosa will begin with zero preseason snaps.

Being intact is much more of a priority now than being tested, the Chargers mostly unconcerned that running back Melvin Gordon missed the game Saturday because of a family matter.

“It’s almost turned into that’s what’s most important,” Rivers said. “There are things we want to get done, but let’s get healthy to Week 1 and hopefully -- it looks like for the most part -- we have done that. We’ll be good.”

Plan: Lamp to play Thursday

Among the other Chargers who didn’t play Saturday was offensive lineman Forrest Lamp, who went through warmups on the field but then spent the game in street clothes.

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“He’s looked really good in practice,” coach Anthony Lynn said afterward. “It was hard not to put him in this game. But the plan was to get him in (Thursday).”

Lamp, a second-round draft pick in 2017, missed last season because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.

Lynn said there’s a chance Lamp could play in the opener depending on how he performs Thursday against the 49ers.

He’ll be joining an offensive front that fared well in a 36-7 loss to New Orleans, the starters opening several glaring holes for Austin Ekeler and Detrez Newsome in the first half.

“I feel like this group is starting to gel at the right time,” Lynn said. “I feel like I saw that (Saturday). When they came off the field, they really wanted to go back (out) and play. I saw it in their eyes. That was different.”

Game unravels in second half

The Chargers led the Saints 7-0 early Saturday and controlled the game on both offense and defense through the first quarter.

Then things turned decidedly in the favor of New Orleans, particularly as the game unraveled a bit over the final two quarters.

“I want them to compete better than they did,” Lynn said of the Chargers’ second-teamers. “I do want to see that. That backup defense has been pretty dominant all camp. I thought we lost a lot of one-on-ones.”

Backup QBs struggle

Rivers’ backups struggled against the Saints, Cardale Jones limited by a minor groin strain and Geno Smith throwing an interception for a touchdown.

“I thought he handled himself well,” Lynn said of Smith. “He threw some balls right on the money on third down and we dropped them. … Other than the pick-six, I thought he was pretty solid.”

Etc.

Defensive tackle Corey Liuget and offensive lineman Russell Okung left the game Saturday with what Lynn described as minor injuries. … Lynn on rookie linebacker Kyzir White, who started against New Orleans: “He’s an explosive young man. He can make plays. He’s going to compete for that starting lineup.”

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