Headliners

The day after the Chargers blew out the Saints at home still feels good. The contributions are increasing as the players fight for the headlines each week. The highlight reel is littered with equal parts offense, defense and special teams.

Preparation has been the focus every week and Marty Schottenheimer is unwilling to let up, especially after witnessing a collapse two years ago.

One player who is hitting the highlight reel with increasing regularity is Antonio Gates. It is hard to believe that some fantasy owners were able to pick up this star in the making as a free agent – similar to how he was picked up by the Chargers.

What isn't a surprise to fans in San Diego is his success this year. He had the makings of a special player last year and put in the work to ensure he stays on top of his game.

Each week he goes out and commands the top cover guys on the opposition and each week he dispenses of them in a proficient manner.

"It was number 85 most of the time," a frustrated Tebucky Jones said. "We made number 85 look like Michael Jordan. It seemed like every time he caught the ball he was in the end zone. Every time they got in the red zone, they scored."

"He's a good player," cornerback Mike McKenzie said. "We didn't do a well enough job playing him and being physical."

Jones was once franchised by the New England Patriots and Mike McKenzie was a Pro Bowl alternate. They are both accomplished in defending the pass but neither had an answer for Gates.

He caught five passes on the day and three went for touchdowns, accounting for almost half of the Chargers offensive output on the day.

"We have to get on Gates-e about something, ‘you could have had four,'" quarterback Drew Brees teased of a pass from Keenan McCardell to Gates that went incomplete.

It isn't easy, however, covering a sure-fired Pro Bowl tight end. McKenzie mentioned playing physical, but how, pray tell, does a 194 pound cornerback expect to jar a 260 pound specimen?

Without two guys at the line, the task is monumental.

"They are trying to jam me up at the line, make it hard for me to get out and they switch it up," Gates explains of the techniques defenders are employing. "One time the linebacker might have me. The next time the corner might have me. The next time the safety might have me, just to keep me off-balance. Then they use the bracket technique with a guy inside and a guy outside.

Yet none of those "techniques" are slowing the big man down. He pounds through the jam at the line and is half way down the field before the defender can catch up. He is splitting the bracket and leaving two defenders in his wake.

It has been a long time since a receiver has been this good in San Diego.

"My thing is to be patient and take advantage of the opportunities. It comes down to Drew Brees' decision."

And the quarterback is finding a lovely target in Gates. He has the height, body control and speed of a top flight wide receiver. "He is a 5-8, 150 pound receiver but in a 6-3, 260 pound frame," safety Jerry Wilson said.

Besides the gaudy stats as a receiver, Gates is putting in the time as a blocker, an area that sees progress from week to week.

He has the prototypical frame to be effective as a blocker and if he chips in there, no one will know just when he is running a route as opposed to staying in and paving a hole for the running backs to scoot through.

Why be a football player if you can't be the complete package?

"Tony Gonzalez is a great tight end," coach Marty Schottenheimer begins of the comparison. "They are different body types. He is thick and big and very physical.

"He is more than willing as a blocker. He loves to block. After they become pass receiving stars, blocking becomes a pain. That hasn't happened here and I know with Coach Brewster working with him that won't change."


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