There’s no denying that tight ends are in vogue in the NFL today and the San Diego Chargers have been at the forefront of that revolution for the better part of the past decade. Their pass catching tight end Antonio Gates has set many league records during his career and put up some incredible numbers during his career.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, their once prolific match-up nightmare in Gates has been hampered by injuries during the past two seasons. Nagging foot problems have forced him to miss nine games over that period of time and kept the team without its most dynamic offensive components at critical times during the year.
2012 looks to be a new chapter in this saga as Gates is finally healthy for the offseason program and has been in attendance as a full participant. According to Head Coach Norv Turner: "Gates looks great — he's back. Physically, he's back to where we want him to be. I think, like anybody, going through this offseason program helps you get better. (It's) the combination of conditioning, the combination of getting better in the areas you can improve, and being out there with your teammates."
Even though Gates has been productive despite missing significant time in the past, his 114 receptions for 1,560 yards and 17 touchdowns will require a plan B should the unforeseen happen again. General Manager A.J. Smith seemed to put that contingency plan into place by re-signing Randy McMichael and adding Dante Rosario to the roster in free agency. The club also drafted Ladarius Green in the fourth round to groom as the heir-apparent to Gates.
Green is 6’6” 235 lbs. and more in the mold of a wide receiver at the moment, but the team is hopeful that he can bulk up to 245 or 250 by the time the year begins. His production at small school Louisiana-Lafayette was impressive tallying 149 grabs for 2,201 and 22 touchdowns during his career. Quickly assimilating him into the mix would provide Philip Rivers with another receiving weapon to counteract the loss of Vincent Jackson in free agency.
While the Chargers have to feel comfortable with their current complement of tight ends on the roster, news that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be poised to cut the often controversial Kellen Winslow II has raised some eyebrows. Obviously the connections being the son of former Charger great Kellen Winslow means that fans would be interested in the name, but could Winslow fit into the Bolts’ current pool of talent?
That idea isn’t all that enticing given the fact that the team still has Kory Sperry on the roster as well giving them a total of five bodies at one lesser utilized position on the depth chart. Gates will be 33 years old next month, but it may be a bit of overkill to load up that heavily at one spot.
The mission for Gates in the coming season will be to maintain his health and again have a productive year like many of his past campaigns. He has a clear agenda to prove that he is still an elite player and belongs in the conversation for the best all-time at the tight end position. Tony Gonzalez certainly has the inside track for that designation at the moment, but Gates was on a pace in 2010 before his injury to shatter the record books at his position. In just 10 games, Gates had 50 catches for 782 yards and 10 touchdowns that season and hopes to regain a similar form in the coming year fully recovered from the plantar fascia injury that has nagged him ever since.
Tight end has always been a nice security blanket for quarterbacks when under duress, but more and more, the position has become the focal point of many offenses. With their current assembly of talent at that spot, the Chargers have the makings of a tight end focused offense of their own capable of finding plenty of mismatches throughout the league in 2012.
It’s your turn to be heard! Do you think that the tight end revolution in the NFL will cause the Bolts to use more multiple tight end sets this season? Will a healthy Antonio Gates return to his 2010 pre-injury form and help the team re-write the record books this year? Can recent draftee Ladarius Green be groomed into a Gates clone in the near future? Should the Chargers try to sign Kellen Winslow if the Bucs release him? Do you see the tight end position being even more important now that Vincent Jackson is gone? Please fill up the comments with your insight!
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