Chargers Review: Tight End

Fantasy gurus thought they were wise to pick up Antonio Gates in rounds six through ten, but the wise move would have been to pick him by round three. The former undrafted free agent turned in a season for the ages, eclipsing records along the way as a member of the San Diego Chargers.

Only fans in San Diego thought Antonio Gates would have a breakout season. He had all that and more, leading the Bolts in receptions and receiving touchdowns. He caught nearly half of Drew Brees' touchdown tosses and broke an NFL record for tight ends in the process. His 13 scores eclipsed the NFL mark of 12 held by three players.

He ended the year with 81 receptions for 964 yards, including 338 yards after the catch in 15 games.

Yet, Gates remains humble about his accomplishes. A shy kid who just realized he has some talent but doesn't think he deserves recognition.

One player that the second year tight end said he learned a lot from was Tony Gonzalez, another former basketball player. Gonzalez spent the year fending off Gates' accomplishments and ended the year with the most receptions by a tight end in NFL history.

"I had a chance to learn from him," said Gates. "I wanted to see what he did well and see what I could pick up. Obviously he is the best tight end in football right now. It was a chance to learn and meet him as well. I noticed the way he was patient, letting the game come to him. He does a great job of putting his foot in the ground and coming out of his cuts. That is something I took from watching him. The way he knows the game is something I want to emphasize and build in my character."

Gates finished second to Gonzalez in first downs by a tight end with 55 and Gates had just 24 total receptions in 2003. He led the AFC in third down receptions with 30 and placed second in the league, one behind Javon Walker. Six of his touchdowns also came on third down.

"The offensive coordinator does a terrific job of putting me in situations," said Gates.

Nine of his touchdowns came when the offense had motion, generally putting Gates on the move to create a mismatch. He was targeted 114 times on the year, catching 71 percent of the passes thrown his way.

The reward for his season was a Pro Bowl nod in Hawaii.

He had periods of memory lapse – times when he would get so excited about the matchup he saw that he jumped offsides. And he wants to continue to work on all the little aspects of the game, including his blocking. His goal is become the most complete tight end in the NFL.

This offseason, basketball has taken a backseat. He doesn't foresee himself getting on the hardwood. There is too much work to do.

"I am more focused on having a great year next year after this year," Gates offered. "I will play playstation basketball all day long. I continue to grind and do the right things because three years from now I could be the biggest bust in football history."

Humble to the end.

Justin Peelle has been known as the blocking tight end in San Diego. The Chargers threw the ball 78 times in two tight end sets and ran the ball 130 times while in the same formation.

Peelle was counted upon heavily to seal the edge of the line and give running room to the running backs. He also was crucial in blocking downfield and clearing out space for other receivers with his route running and drawing defenders his way.

"Everybody talked about Gates, but what about Justin Peelle," Brees explained. "What he does for us from the standpoint of blocking and route running. He is the ultimate."

A year after catching 16 balls, Peelle snared ten balls in 2004 for 84 yards and two touchdowns, being targeted 20 times. A restricted free agent, Peelle fills the role of blocking tight end to compliment Gates with the ability to catch a few passes.

Inactive for 15 games, Ryan Krause was an afterthought. He was on the roster (we checked) but nary had a word been heard from the sixth round draft pick.

In the last game of the season, Ryan Krause showcased his talents for the world to see. Playing on the all-scrub team, Krause exploded onto the scene with five catches for 81 yards to lead the team. He also caught hit first touchdown pass from Doug Flutie. After the game he had, Krause even suited up for the playoffs.

After a year with Tim Brewster, Krause will now be under the tutelage of Rob Chudzinski. A hybrid body, somewhere between a tight end and a wide receiver, could prove advantageous to the Chargers in 2005 as they exploit the matchups created.

"The only thing I have to work on is blocking," Krause admitted. "I was always used to chop blocking or cracking on linebackers. Now I block defensive ends and linebackers head on."

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net


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