San Diego Chargers Diagnosis: Antonio Gates

One of the main keys to the season this year is Antonio Gates. In order for the San Diego Chargers to be at least somewhat successful they have to find a valuable addition to LaDainian Tomlinson. In the season opener, Gates showed flashes of brilliance and flashes of, well you know, inexperience. But, when it was all said and done, Gates was a essential contributor to an upset victory for San Diego on opening day.

Antonio Gates made his presence known in the very first scoring drive for the Chargers. He caught the only two completed passes but was flagged. Unfortunately for the offense one of penalties negated a play that would have set up a third and short.

This type of play should be expected from the second year player. There is no doubt that Gates has the potential to be an all pro. But as most close to the organization know, Gates only has a couple years of football experience under his belt. Gates is a gifted athlete and knows how to use his body incredibly well. He also studied hard this off season and it shows through his precise route running. But one can only learn so much in a year.

Gates obviously has not figured out that there is such a penalty called "holding". In all fairness to him, why would he? He simply does not have enough experience to know what he can and cannot get away with. In the first drive both penalties really had no bearing on the play at hand, and the result was settling for three.

What Charger fans will be elated about is that Gates kept his tempo up the entire game. There is no question he was getting winded, but he played at a top notch level for four full quarters.

In the midst of the second quarter, Gates ran an effective route catching a seventeen yard pass on a key conversion. Even though the Chargers walked away from this drive with no points, it gave the defense a needed rest. Gates also got a throw away pass to wrap things up, but by this time he was by far the Chargers most effective receiver.

Going into the third quarter, one would think the Houston Texans had figured out that Gates was a force to be reckoned with. By now, however, the Chargers had not only gotten other players involved but Tomlinson was well on his way to a 100 yard game. And the Chargers made sure to exploit the single coverage between Gates and either a linebacker or the nickel back.

In the go ahead drive for San Diego, Gates came up big once again. One pass was an essential third and long conversion (his second), but the very next play was a fifteen plus yard catch with an effective run afterwards. Gates kept the momentum swinging in the Chargers direction, and no doubt, opened up the defense to allow Tomlinson to slash his way inside. This drive was capped by a magnificent catch by Eric Parker for a touchdown.

Gates finished the game with a redoubtable 123 yards off of eight receptions. He was clearly Drew Brees' favorite target for the day and was the only player for either team who caught at least one pass in each quarter. Gates showed great resolve by making his presence known when the Chargers needed him the most. Since the game was back and forth, Gates almost had to come up big in every drive.

It will be interesting to see what type of follow up game Gates has against the New York Jets next week. It is still unknown whether the Jets will make a point in shutting him down, but since he is still a virtual unknown, the Jets might not give him as much attention as they would maybe Jeremy Shockey. Instead, their game plan will obviously will be centered around stopping Tomlinson and making Brees beat them with the pass. This is where Gates could take advantage. Rather than keying in on him, the New York is probably more likely to put more of an emphasis on their pass rush.

With this said, one should not expect Gates to have the type of statistical performance he did against Houston. To say he will receive successfully anywhere from 3-5 passes would be a safe bet. If Gates can help convert a couple of key third down conversions, then the Chargers should have little problem putting themselves in scoring position. The New York Jets have an awfully good defense, so if Gates can help contribute on some key conversions, then the staff will be happy.

Diagnosis for next week: It is a rarity for any tight end to gain 1,000 yards receiving in the NFL, even Tony Gonzalez. To take Gates‚ 100 plus yards this week and multiply it by sixteen is obviously very unrealistic. Charger fans can hope for an encore, but as long as Gates makes his presence known, all is well. Since this only his second year in the league, he might be prone to having a big week and then disappearing the next. If Gates makes a couple of receptions at key moments next week, even if only for five yards, he will continue to take the necessary steps in making himself an essential part in the Chargers offensive repertoire. At this point in his career all one can hope for is progression, and not dominance.

Diagnosis for the season:

Gates is well on his way to a having a breakout season. But there is more to playing tight end than running and catching. Gates will soon have to learn when it is worth his effort to "hold" than to let himself be beat. Would one rather Gates "hold" than Brees take a blind-side shot? Of course, but when he is out of a play for the most part, it is important for Gates to have enough field awareness to way the risks versus the rewards. If Tomlinson, or whomever, is clearly going to make a first down without the extra "help" then he should let it go.

Next to scoring, the most important thing an offense can do is move the chains. Dealing with crowd noise (false start penalties) and trying to get leverage anyway he can (holding) is something that improves with experience. As long as Gates is constantly aware, then hopefully it will never get to an extent where it could be the difference in the Chargers winning or losing a game.

Byran Martin can be reached at

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