Tight End Talent Goes Beyond Gates

The Chargers preseason opener was hardly a tightly contested affair, but it did reveal what will likely be a season-long trend: a reliance on the tight end. Despite the fact that Antonio Gates agreed to a six-year contract extension just last season, the Chargers made revamping the tight end position a top offseason priority.

The positional makeover started when Aaron Shea was signed to a three-year contract. During his six years with the Browns, Shea has caught 97 passes for 851 yards and seven touchdowns. His value goes beyond his contributions as a receiver; he is a surprisingly proficient in-line blocker and versatile performer who plays more as an H-back than a traditional tight end.

The next move at the position came on draft day when the Chargers sent the Rams a fourth-round pick in exchange for Brandon Manumaleuna. Listed at 288 lbs., Manumaleuna has the size and power to function as a sixth offensive lineman. However, he is likely to contribute as a receiver as well.

"He was brought in here with a definite purpose," said Marty Schottenheimer of Manumaleuna. "He's a very talented guy. It's amazing because he's so athletic and has very good hands."

Behind those two is Ryan Krause, the best pass catcher (behind Gates) of the group. He actually played receiver in college and thrice earned all-conference honors in that role. Krause was the team's leading receiver against the Packers, catching six passes for 64 yards.

It's amazing that the team has so much talent behind the league's best talent at tight end. Gates has caught 23 touchdowns over the last two seasons – a record among tight ends – and feels the team's additions at the position will only aid his success.

"We want to maximize our abilities at that spot," Gates said, "and bringing in guys like Brandon and Shea and still with the addition of Ryan Krause, I think we can be a special group."

Just how special?

"I feel like we have the best group of tight ends in the National Football League," Gates added. "It was fun to watch them play (against the Packers) and it was fun to see them execute plays."

Against Green Bay, with Shea sitting out with a back injury and Gates playing only a couple of snaps – the team's tight ends combined for 11 catches for 126 yards. Those numbers are impressive, but they could get even better once the entire group plays a whole game together.

In the free agency era, where depth is a luxury most teams can't afford, the Chargers have the league's deepest and most talented group of tight ends. If the offense is to maintain its high level of success with the inexperienced Rivers at the helm, the play of the tight ends will be largely responsible.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@sandiegosports.net

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