Monthly Archives: July 2015
The Chargers did a solid job of reshuffling their offense during the 2015 offseason. Despite losing skill-position players such as Eddie Royal and Ryan Mathews, the team retooled with the drafting of Melvin Gordon and the additions of Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones.
Johnson along with Dontrelle Inman will be responsible for replacing the production of Royal. Jones will not be expected to do too much as a receiver, as he was mainly signed to provide a much-needed boost to the return game.
One player that will be counted on heavily is third-year wideout Keenan Allen. Many considered Allen to have gone through the pains of a sophomore slump last season, despite having more receptions than he did as a rookie. The youngster experienced much different coverage after defenses had one year of tape on him. The 23-year-old has been working on his speed this offseason, hoping to gain better separation from the opposing team’s top cornerbacks in 2015.
Coming back for what will be his last season in the NFL is Malcom Floyd. Though he suffered a serious neck injury in week two of 2013, Floyd managed to play all 16 games last year, posting 52 receptions for 856 yards and six touchdowns. That would mark only the second time he had played in each regular season game since coming into the league in 2004.
Due to the unexpected four-game suspension of Antonio Gates, now is the time for Ladarius Green to take the next step in his career. Obviously Gates will regain his starting spot when he returns, but Green now becomes one of Rivers’ first passing options in the redzone. It goes without saying that the organization would love to see the young tight end elevate his game in the absence of Gatesy.
As far as the running game is concerned– albeit it too premature to assume — a healthy Gordon is considered by most to be an upgrade over Mathews. Possessing solid speed, vision and patience, he should excel at the next level in due time; perhaps even as a rookie.
Getting a healthy Danny Woodhead back is huge for the Charger offense. Woodhead was sorely missed as a runner and receiver after a broken fibula landed him on injured reserve in week two of last year. He brings an element to the field that can’t be replaced. He’s a very unique player. Undrafted free agent Branden Oliver filled in admirably when injuries decimated the backfield, winning the Pepsi Offensive Player of the week twice in 2014 and leading the team in rushing yards by season’s end. He will see a reduced role this year, but he will be valuable when called upon to spell the other backs.
It seems as though, despite what the media prognosticated this offseason, that Donald Brown will be a Charger this season. The word out of Chargers Park is that he looks more explosive, similar to the way he appeared in his last year with the Colts.
It will be very interesting to see how the carries are split up among the running backs, but expect the team to begin to rely on Gordon more and more as the season progresses.
After deciding against re-signing left guard Chad Rinehart, the club went after a major upgrade in Orlando Franklin. San Diego was aggressive in acquiring Franklin via free agency, paying him handsomely to join the offensive line. It is definitely nice to see him come over from the rival Broncos. Almost bigger than the acquisition of Franklin was the re-signing of King Dunlap. The mammoth of a man was arguably the best left tackle available in free agency. Bringing him back gives the Chargers a stout left side of the line, especially in the running game.
After improving as the season wore on, Chris Watt is penciled in as the team’s starting center. Due to the Chargers dealing with a revolving door at the position in 2014, a healthy Watt will be welcomed with open arms in his second year. The club has said that he seems much more comfortable entering this offseason in comparison to his rookie campaign.
There are still question marks on the right side of the line: Will DJ Fluker remain at right tackle? Will the team settle for the unimpressive Johnnie Troutman at right guard? Regardless of how that plays out, the big hogs up front have improved overall as a unit. As much as we’d all like to see the team kick Big Fluke inside and start newly signed Joe Barksdale at right tackle, the coaching staff may settle for what many would consider to be the starting offensive line as Dunlap, Franklin, Watt, Troutman and Fluker (left-to-right).
As long as the Chargers’ offensive line can keep Rivers clean in the pocket, and open up holes in the running game, the offense should flourish…. after Gates is back on the field. It can be expected that the offense may struggle to find a rhythm minus Gates. But a strong running game would be a nice crutch as the team figures out how to play without the future Hall of Fame tight end. Suffering through another year where they rotate in five centers doesn’t seem fair at this point.
Here’s to hoping they stay healthy for the majority of the year and have a chance to fight to get back into the playoffs.
Thanks a lot for reading.
– Stay tuned for my next article on the stat predictions for this side of the ball. It should be posted either today or tomorrow.
Chargers.com provides links to their top-five most viewed article this offseason.
Eddie Brown of The San Diego Union-Tribune talks about Ladarius Green’s chance to step it up.
ESPN.com NFL Insider Matt Williamson gives his take on what to expect from the Chargers’ offensive line in 2015.
Eric Williams, also of ESPN.com, has two articles for your reading pleasure:
Clutch. Unbelievable. Sure-handed. Skillful.
Use whatever word in the English language you wish to describe him, but Antonio Gates is right up there as not only one of THE BEST tight ends to play in the NFL, he is also one of the most revered players in the history of the San Diego Chargers. Accolades abound for this man who wears lightning bolts on his sleeves and the No. 85 on his back. Here’s a look at what not only Bolts’ fans, but football enthusiasts, have to admire about one of San Diego’s favorites.
Gates wanted to play both basketball and football after high school so enrolled at Michigan State University. At the time, Nick Saban was the head football coach. Saban didn’t want Gates side-tracked and told him he could only devote his time to football. Determined to continue his dual-sports activities, Gates transferred first to Eastern Michigan University, then College of the Sequoias in San Joaquin Valley. Eventually he found his way to Kent State and became the power forward of their basketball team. During his 2001-2002 season, he helped guide the Golden Flashes to their first regular season championship in school history, posting a MAC-record 17-1 league mark in 2001-2002. The Flash then went on to the NCAA Elite Eight, posting wins against three top-25 opponents: No. 20 Oklahoma State, No. 8 Alabama and No. 7 Pittsburgh. Individually, Gates set a school record by scoring 640 points as a senior, receiving the AP’s Honorable Mention All-American Honors. His blue and gold #44 jersey was retired by Kent State on February 27, 2010 – only the fourth time in the school’s history a player was so honored.
NBA scouts did not think that at 6’4″ Gates would be able to make it in basketball. It was the way he snagged rebounds, made jumpers and boxed out defenders that caught the eyes of NFL scouts. He then focused his energy on preparation for the NFL. His first tryout (and about 20 teams wanted him) was for San Diego. From the time he stepped onto the field at Chargers Park in 2003, it was obvious that Gates was going to be something special. Then general manager A.J. Smith signed him to a two-year rookie contract worth $537,000. Quarterback for the Bolts during the 2003-04 seasons was Drew Brees; he threw 105 passes to Gates for 1,353 yards and 15 touchdowns. Elected to his first Pro Bowl, Gates was on the receiving end of two touchdown balls in that contest (Brees and Peyton Manning). And there was more to come, albeit with a new guy throwing the ball.
Rivers to Gates Era Begins:
Philip Rivers became the signal caller for the Chargers in 2006. A brief holdout ended with Gates inking a six-year deal worth $24 million. As Rivers’ primary target, he became a nightmare for defenses in the passing game. The duo’s first year together saw them connect 71 times for nine scores and 924 yards in the regular season. Statistically, they have not fared so well in postseason play – in five trips (2006-09, 2013) their statistics are 36/51 passes, 375 yards and zero touchdowns.
Though the 2007-08 seasons saw Gates struggle with foot injuries, he came back in 2009 and had a year for the books by nabbing 79 catches for 1,157 yards with eight TDs. His 2010 season (complete with a new five-year, $36 million contract) began with Gates racking up 653 yards on nine TDs and 40 grabs through the first eight games. Plagued by plantar fasciitis, Gates played in the 2011 season opener then sat out the next two games. Returning to the line-up after the October 16 bye, he went on a tear: 32 passes/389 yards/4 touchdowns. Typically March roars in like a lion, but the Bolts really stepped it up in December, and this time was no exception as the team won the first three games of the month. Gates was on a roll, hauling in 15 throws from Philip Rivers totaling 169 yards. At this point, No. 85 is very close to tying a record set by one of the best wide receivers in Chargers history. Did he do it?! The Christmas Eve game in his hometown Detroit against the Lions was a bittersweet one…the Bolts lost that game while Gates snared four receptions that day and chalked up another team record. At the close of 2011, there was one more: it marked the seventh time Gates had more than 60 catches in a season. Eight years into his career and records are falling left and right!
Nowhere near done, 2012 saw the duo of Rivers and Gates become the best QB/TE pair by setting an NFL-high 56 catches and 60 TDs. In 2013, Gates played all 16 games for the first time since 2009, finishing with over 70 receptions (77) for the fourth time in his career. Over his 10 years in the NFL (2003-2013), Gates established himself as one of THE most clutch receivers on 3rd down in the league. By the end of the ’13 season, his 213 grabs were 23rd in history and 3rd most among tight ends (Gonzalez and Witten are the others). During those same 10 years, 30 of his 87 touchdown receptions came on 3rd down – making him seventh in NFL history of all players and second for his position. Along came 2014 with another complete season (16 games/69 catches/821 yards/12 TDs) and not only team but NFL records bit the dust.
Catching His Way into the Record Books:
Here is how Gates stacks up with fellow tight ends Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe and Jason Witten. Each has been voted to multiple Pro Bowls/All-Pros teams. A former basketballer like Gates, Gonzalez (Chiefs/Falcons) is recognized for being one of the original downfield threats out of the tight end position. Only Witten (Dallas Cowboys) is still active and has spent his entire career playing for the same team. Presently only Sharpe (Broncos/Ravens) has that most precious piece of metal – actually three! – the Super Bowl ring!!
Tony Gonzalez: 1,325
Jason Witten: 943*
Shannon Sharpe: 815
Antonio Gates: 788*
Career Receiving Yards:
Tony Gonzalez: 15,127
Jason Witten: 10,502*
Shannon Sharpe: 10,060
Antonio Gates: 10,014*
Tony Gonzalez: 111
Antonio Gates: 99*
Jason Witten: 57*
Shannon Sharpe: 55
Path to the Hall of Fame:
Number 100. Will that landmark catch come in week one of the 2015 season? And keep your eyes peeled for 10,061.
The first ball that Gates gets his hands on that goes for a touchdown will place him in a three-way tie with Franco Harris (Steelers) and Curtis Martin (Patriots/Jets) for 20th All-Time for touchdowns scored. Should the Rivers-Gates duo manage 13, he glides by Tony Gonzalez and into a tie at 12 with Shaun Alexander (Seahawks). The prolific QB-TE pair capitalized twelve times last year, so having veterans Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones in the fold with Keenan Allen could make this a real deal.
How sweet would it be for him to reach another career milestone against the Lions on September 13? With 47 yards literally in his grasp, Gates becomes the No. 3 tight end in receiving yards, currently held by Sharpe at 10,060.
NFL records for Gates are:
– set an NFL single season TD record for tight ends with 13 (2004)
– 7th TE with 500 career receptions (2010)
– 5th tight end to reach 600 catches (2012)
– 4th tight end to pass 10K career receiving yards*
– 9th All-Time with 99 TDs (tied with Don Hutson)*
– 4th player in league history with 12+ TDs at age 34 (Cris Carter, Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison)*
– 4th TE to achieve 20+ 100 yard games (Tony Gonzalez-31; Kellen Winslow-26; Jackie Smith-22; Antonio Gates-21)*
– The QB-TE combo of Rivers and Gates have 70 touchdown passes, the most in NFL history.*
Here are more of his accomplishments with the Bolts:
– Pro Bowl – eight consecutive years, 2004-2011
– All-Pro – five times, 2004-06 and 2009-10
– All-Time Reception leader (788)*
– All-Time Touchdown leader (99)*
– 4th All-Time Receiving yards by passing Kellen Winslow (6,741) with 7,005 (2010)
– Breaks Charlie Joiner’s 25 year record of 586 career catches on December 24, 2011
– Sets the QB-TE receptions for touchdowns with 56 (2012)
– 2nd TE to play 10 years for the Chargers (2013)
– Franchise leader in Receiving yards by passing Lance Alworth (9,584) with 9,596*
Whenever Gates decides to hang up his cleats, this quote by friend and teammate Philip Rivers perhaps says it best:
”He’s the ultimate competitor. And in saying that, the ultimate competitor not in competing to get records like this, but just in wanting to go out and play and help us win. When you approach it that way, usually things like this get accomplished. So he’s done it the right way.”
Once that announcement is made, I’m guessing there will plenty of fans and players alike who will be saluting the football player who will be a Hall of Fame first-ballot choice five years from his final game. Just a guy who never played a down in collegiate gridiron, yet went on to be one of the top tight ends in NFL history.
Congratulations, Antonio Gates, for being one of the best tight ends ever. You have carried yourself like a professional on and off the field ever since the day the Chargers took a chance on a former basketball player. It is safe to say that it worked out pretty well.
Thanks for reading and BOLT UP!!!
*career numbers at the end of the 2014 NFL season for each statistic listed