Under new head coach Mike McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the San Diego Chargers’ passing game will focus more on short and intermediate routes rather than Norv Turner’s preferred deep ball. This makes the tight ends even more important in this offense and should especially help Antonio Gates.
Gates may be one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game, but at 33-years-old, he’s clearly lost a step. Gates’ speed has certainly diminished, making it harder for him to separate from younger defenders. However, he still remains a great route runner who knows how to read defenses and get open. He can possibly thrive this season if he’s focusing more on underneath routes than trying to outrun faster defenders. At the very least, Gates will still draw a fair share of double teams, meaning even if he’s not the one to make the play, he’ll still open up opportunities for the receivers and backs to get open.
Many believe tight end Ladarius Green will be Gates’ heir apparent at tight end. The 6-6, 240 pound second-year pro is highly athletic with great speed and leaping ability. After a year learning from one of the best tight ends to ever play the game, Green could contribute this season and be an excellent red zone threat for Philip Rivers, who can throw it up and let Green do the rest. He could definitely add some bulk to his frame and work on his blocking ability, but Green’s size and pure athleticism makes him so tempting to put on the field.
Also in the mix will be free agent acquisition John Phillips. Phillips will primarily be a blocking tight end in San Diego, but has the versatility to be a factor as a pass catcher as well. Considering General Manager Tom Telesco jumped on him on the first day of free agency, there will likely be a plan in place for Phillips to contribute.
The Chargers have three talented tight ends in the mix heading into the 2013 season. As long as Gates stays healthy, he can definitely thrive in the new offense, while Green and Phillips should have important roles as well.