Tight end Antonio Gates is back, and is expected to play Monday for the first time this season after serving a four-game suspension for violating league rules on using performance-enhancing drugs.
How much he’ll play is a mystery. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Thursday that while he has a certain “snap count” in mind, he also doesn't want him playing every snap.
"[Gates] looks explosive as ever,” Reich said. “He steps onto the field and the first route he runs, it’s eye-popping … I’m hoping he comes in and makes an immediate impact. How many plays he plays is hard to tell at this point … but you want him to be in there enough to get his touches and make the impact a guy like that can have.”
Gates, not surprisingly, said he’s coming in without any expectations of how much or how little he will be on the field.
“All I know is that, whenever and wherever my number is called, I just need to be ready,” the eight-time Pro Bowler said. “I think my focus is on being prepared, taking steps one day at a time and doing the right things to play on Monday night.
"Obviously, we have a core of guys who are super talented. I’m quite sure [Reich] will maximize every single player’s ability in that tight end room. I’m here like everybody else, just trying to do the right things and be efficient offensively.”
One of those other "talented" players is tight end Ladarius Green, who, in Gates' absence, had 14 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
The question is, will Green sit now that Gates is back? Can the Chargers finally find a way to get them both on the field?
"I certainly don’t anticipate [Green] standing on the sideline a lot of these games,” Rivers said. “He’s going to be involved, whether it be with Gates or keeping Gates fresh for this 12-game stretch. I don’t know this for sure, but its not like Gates has to play 70 plays every week. Ladarius is still going to be a big part of it.”
"That's the great thing about the players that we have. We have playmakers at every position and all over the field that really complement one another, so we really want to mix it up in our personnel groups to get different guys playing together, to keep the defenses guessing as much as you can. How are they going to match up? Do they play man, zone? If they play man, how do they match up when this group is in there versus when that group is in there? So, when you have playmakers at all the positions that really helps us to go in and try to develop plays to give them the best chance to win."