Chargers must overcome Gates' suspension

He didn't even play football in college. Yet, in 2004 Antonio Gates enjoyed one of the finest seasons ever by an NFL tight end. One of the Chargers primary weapons, he will not be available for the home opener against Dallas.

In only his second full year, the San Diego Charger was voted an All-Pro, hence in large part to catching an NFL tight end season record 13 touchdown passes. Gates also finished the season sixth in the AFC in receptions with 81.

Teams bracketed him with coverage, used linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks to attempt to cover him and he used every tool in his still developing arsenal to get open.

This is the same kid that led Kent State's men's basketball team to an appearance in the NCAA Elite Eight in 2002. It is no surprise that he often relates catching a football to going for a rebound.

"When the ball is thrown to me, I'm in an attack mode because I'm so used to boxing out guys who are taller then me", says Gates. "Granted I get jammed, but I feel when a guy's holding me man-to-man, he can't guard me because he couldn't do it with a basketball in my hand, and now I'm free."

He said one thing is different. "There are no fouls. You catch it, you still get hit."

Gates will, however, miss the season opener against Dallas as he serves the final game of his three-game suspension.

His presence, particularly in the red zone, will be missed by the Chargers. Gates was a target for Drew Brees on 114 occasions last year and caught 81 of those – 71 percent for those keeping track.

Considering Brees threw 400 passes and completed 262, Gates was the primary target 29 percent of the time and caught 31 percent of his completions.

"Once we get Gates in we will be set for the season," Brees admitted. "He is extremely important."

With head coach Marty Schottenheimer stressing the importance of winning the Chargers home games, doing so without Gates will be a challenge. Brees has found ways to consistently punch it in the end zone during preseason. But that was preseason where vanilla defenses are the norm. Against Dallas it begins for real.

Some active NFL players who did not play football in college:

P Darren Bennett Minnesota None
P Ben Graham Jets None
DL Coach Sam Clancy Oakland University of Pittsburgh/Basketball
TE Wesley Duke Denver Mercer University/Basketball
TE Antonio Gates San Diego Kent State/Basketball
S Clinton Hart San Diego Central Florida CC/Baseball
WR Michael Jennings New York Giants Florida State/Track & Field
WR Michael Lewis New Orleans None
TE Marcus Pollard Detroit Bradley University/Basketball

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