Antonio Gates, who has missed the last three games and has not caught a pass since Opening Day, hopes to return to action Sunday against the New York Jets. He practiced on Monday and was able to test his injured foot, although not to the extent where he is willing to declare himself game-ready.
If Gates can return, it will help in two ways. Firstly, it will help a red-zone offense that ranks No. 25 in touchdown efficiency. Gates is one of the best touchdown-producing tight ends in league history, averaging more than 9½ scores per season between 2004 and 2010. Secondly, it will prevent opposing safeties from playing far back and slowing the deep passing game, which will help Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd get back to blowing the tops off defenses.
If Gates does indeed return this week, it will be interesting to see how much the Chargers use him. The smart play would be to use him only on third downs and red-zone situations in an effort to preserve him for the remainder of the season. Gates' backup has been doing fine in his stead, as Randy McMichael ranks fourth on the team with 15 receptions.
Lockout's Lingering Effects
DL Ogemdi Nwagbuo
Since Sept. 1, the Chargers have added the following defenders to the team: Na'il Diggs, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Paul Oliver, Tommie Harris and Gerald Hayes. That is more than 400 games of experience and over 1,200 career tackles.
How is that a product of the lockout?
In years past, the Chargers would build depth by signing priority rookie free agents. Those players would be developed on the practice squad and called upon in the season on an as-needed basis. This year, those rookies are not ready to play meaningful minutes, thanks to the lack of offseason mini camps and OTAs. Instead, the Chargers have opted for familiar faces (Nwagbuo, Oliver) and veterans (Diggs, Harries, Hayes).
The plus side? San Diego now has excellent defensive depth across the board. The drawback? Coordinator Greg Manusky still has much work to do to get all these new players on the same page.
The special teams will be fun to watch in Sunday's Chargers-Jets game.
New York features one of the game's best kick returners, Joe McKnight, who is averaging over 44 yards per kickoff return. He will look to become the second player this season to return a kickoff for a touchdown against the Chargers.
Also worth watching is the play of former Jet and current Charger PK Nick Novak, who is perfect on 11 field goal attempts so far this season. Novak can't do any worse than the man he replaced, Nate Kaeding, who went 0-for-3 in his last game against the Jets. That was in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 2009 season, a contest the Chargers lost by three points.
How much of an impact can Antonio Gates make? Discuss in the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.