Gates a keeper: Chargers TE second to none

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Johnny Lightning

Go Bolts
Feb 7, 2006
By Skip Wood, USA TODAY
Antonio Gates' story has become so familiar it almost isn't even a story anymore for most NFL fans. For the record, here's a refresher course:
Gates was an all-state tight end for his Michigan high school. But he was an even better basketball player. He decided he preferred basketball to football. Gates went to four colleges, sometimes considering playing football but always committed to basketball.
Finally, he decided football was his true calling, largely because of his 6-4 frame, and signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent.
Now, preparing to start his fourth NFL season, Gates is an all-pro.
To league coaches, however, not only is Gates' story familiar, it's all too familiar.
This especially is true considering the presence of one LaDainian Tomlinson at running back.
"They do a good job of defining how they're going to get the ball to Gates in different situations and different areas of the field," former NFL coach Dick Vermeil says. "So it goes beyond just the combination of (him) and Tomlinson inside; it goes to how they utilize them inside and how they maneuver them into advantageous positions."
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick understands completely.
If L.T. doesn't get you, Gates will.
"There's no question," Belichick says. "I mean, what are you going to do? Give him the ball and see whether or not you can tackle him in the open field? You don't want to get into that game.
"So, whoever has him better get him. Whoever has Gates, they better get him."
Belichick adds that Gates becomes even more effective because of the likes of wideout Keenan McCardell.
"They force you to defend the entire field," he says. "They force you to defend a 1-yard pass. They force you to defend an 80-yard pass. They force you to defend 15-yard intermediate cuts, screens, perimeter runs, inside plays, draws. Every one of those guys can score from every point on the field, and that's what makes them tough."
All of which makes coach Marty Schottenheimer a happy man. A player such as Gates makes it easy to implement his plans.
"He does a terrific job, I think, in creating matchup problems when you have a tight end like him complemented by our passing game," Schottenheimer says. "And then (when) you add a player like LaDainian to the mix, I think the matchups become significant in many games.
"Some opponents, it's not that significant because they're not in man-to-man that much, but he's done a terrific job for us."
Schottenheimer stills gets questions about Gates and his long absence from football. He understands the curiosity but takes no credit for having some kind of keen sense of how good a player Gates would become.
"My response has always been, 'If we had known he was going to be that good, we would have picked him No. 1 instead of signing him as a free agent,' " Schottenheimer says. "So, he's exceeded our expectations."
Considering Gates as an individual player and not a cog in an offensive machine, Schottenheimer has a relatively straightforward explanation.
Hoops, baby. Hoops.
"His basketball background has enabled him to get his body in positions where the guy that's trying to get the ball has a difficult time getting through him," Schottenheimer says. "They generally don't have the same size that he has, and, of course, he has extremely strong hands and, like any good rebounder, he'll always attack the ball.
"He's never waiting for the ball to come to him. He's always attacking the ball."
But Gates has been attacking something else this offseason. Namely, he wants to get into the minds of those who cover him.
As he explained to, he sees considerable room for improvement.
Toward that end, he has spent a lot of time picking the brain of Chargers secondary coach Brian Stewart.
"I want to be able to think like a defensive player," Gates says. "When we're in a game, defensive guys are calling out a lot of things that they recognize, (so) I want to get a better understanding of what they're looking at and what they're taught to do.
"You want to understand situations. It's been very beneficial, and I can't wait to apply it to games this fall."
He also plans to keep something of a personal scouting report on individual foes.
"Even when you figure out what coverage they're playing, there are still guys who are going to gamble and take chances," Gates says. "I'm trying to identify some of those guys so I'll know who won't necessarily be playing you by the book."
That he's at the top of his positional heap in a lot of folks' books doesn't appear to matter to Gates — and doesn't seem to register as accurate, either.
"I've proven that I can catch the football, but being a complete tight end and a complete player is about more than that," he says. "I want to be a great blocker. People don't realize how difficult it is to block a 270-pound defensive end. I hope that the work I put in this offseason will just help me get better in every area of the game."
Posted 6/28/2006 4:59 PM ET


Well-Known Member
Feb 14, 2006
I miss the days of Winslow - Holohan and Seivers. 3 TE's who tore it up for us blocking and catching.