University of Arkansas
Will the 2016 campaign be the last year that we see both Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates on the field together? What will happen to the Chargers’ dynamic duo? Will they continue to be great after this season? Or will we have to say goodbye to our future hall of fame tight end, Antonio Gates, at year’s end?
There are two different ways to answer this question: the first is contractually and the second is by observation.
First, we will cover contractually. According to Antonio Gates’ contract, he is still going to be with the Chargers through 2017 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. So, he technically has two years to make the decision whether to retire early, or to play out the reminder of his contract and mentor the Chargers tight end of the future, Hunter Henry.
Personally, I watched Henry when he played for the University of Arkansas just this past year, and I was astonished at what I saw. He had a role that was similar to the one that Antonio Gates has for the Chargers; meaning that he was his quarterback’s first choice to throw the ball to, rather than a check-down, which seems to be what most tight ends are that are not named Gates, Gronkowski or Graham.
Now, let’s look at the observation. Looking at Gates’ statistics from the 2015 season, also known as the season the Chargers donated more than half their roster to the DL and IR (but that is another story), he only appeared in 11 of 16 games last season. Last season he only had 56 receptions and 630 receiving yards, as compared to the season before when he had 69 receptions and 821 yards.
It would not be a bad thing for Antonio Gates to retire after this season, and according to UT San Diego, he is contemplating it very seriously. Personally, I see this as what SHOULD be a driving force to the Chargers this season, similar to the Ravens several years ago when it seemed to be all about #WinItForRay. Ray, of course, is in reference to their long-time defensive captain and emotional center of the team, Ray Lewis.
Of course, only time will tell when Antonio Gates retires, but one thing is for certain: whenever he does retire, he should get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
The story of the San Diego Chargers season just continues to go from bad to worse. Here we go yet again, back to the “next man up” philosophy. What else could derail this train?
Chargers fandom was rocked when the story broke that third year wideout Keenan Allen had sustained a lacerated kidney, and subsequently undergone surgery. The rock cracked a bit, as the team later announced that the 23-year-old pass-catcher was being placed on season-ending injured reserve. Tough to swallow because Allen was having arguably the best season since his 2013 rookie year.
That rock is now almost smashed because that plague called injury just will NOT give the Chargers any respite.
The Monday night home game against the Bears saw the ever-reliable and the Chargers own man of some acrobatic catches, Malcom Floyd, go down with a left shoulder injury late in the second quarter. As the game went on, it was announced that he was in sweats on the team’s sideline. Again, the Bolts suffered a huge loss to its arsenal of wide receivers – M80 has a torn labrum. This is so horrifically indicative of the way 2015 has thus far proceeded for San Diego – jinxed.
Word is that Floyd is going to rehab and try to play with the injury. In his final season wearing lightning bolts on his shoulders, Floyd wants to finish on his own terms, not those dictated by injury. If you recall, last year cornerback Jason Verrett tried to play through a labrum torn in three places during the Oakland game. He ended up having surgery and being placed on IR. Will this be the case for M80? We will all know more as the bye week comes to a close and the team monitors his pain level approaching the Kansas City game on November 22.
In the meantime, what will that decimated unit look like going forward? With Floyd’s status day-to-day per Coach McCoy, here is what I anticipate seeing on the field:
Signed in the offseason, the free agent speedster sat out games against Pittsburgh and Green Bay due to a balky hamstring.
From the time he stepped onto the field at Chargers Park, he and Rivers developed a chemistry which Johnson described after an early August practice. Said Johnson, “Phil is great, man. We’ve linked together as brothers, and it’s only four (actually five) days. He makes our job easy. Even when we make a mistake, he can clean it up just with his touch, with his savvy and how he plays the game. He just makes the game easier for receivers.”
Bolts signal caller Rivers and Johnson are going to have to expound and further rely on that rapport as now Johnson will be the go-to guy. He may not have the speed he once had, but he has great hands and is the only veteran receiver left on the roster. Through seven games Johnson has tallied 31 receptions (47 targets) for 351 yards plus two scores. That translates into a 50.1 receiving yard per game percentage (183 total after the catch) that the team desperately needs at this point of their schedule. Here’s hoping Johnson provides much-needed leadership to the young receivers and produces more than the proverbial smack to the forehead when he makes a crucial first down.
At 6’3″, 205 pounds, the undrafted free agent wideout from Virginia is a former player of the Toronto Argonauts (CFL), who won the Grey Cup in 2012.
Inman signed a reserve/futures contract in January 2014. In his first preseason game as a Charger, he had three receptions for 107 yards against the Dallas Cowboys, including a 70-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Inman secured his spot on the 53-man roster with another impressive performance in his last preseason game, leading receivers with three receptions for 54 yards. He would finish the season with 12 catches for 158 yards (13.2 yards per catch) in two games.
Asked recently about how it felt to see more playing time, Inman responded: “Once you gain the confidence of your quarterback, your game elevates ten times. A receiver is nothing without his quarterback. I don’t care how good you are, you’ve seen many great receivers not make it in this league just because they didn’t have a good quarterback.”
To date, the second-year pro has suited up for eight games, collecting 170 yards and one touchdown on 12 receptions. As with the rest of the self-nicknamed “Aliens” receiver corps, Inman must step up his game. I have no doubt that he is up to the task, based on what he has already shown.
The explosive Herndon will be able to make something positive come out of the long weeks sitting on the Bolts’ practice squad. The 6’3, 194-pounder out of the University of Arkansas was pegged a starter after seeing fellow wideouts Keenan Allen and Jacoby Jones exit the 53-man roster last Tuesday with Allen going to IR and Jones being cut.
The hope is that Herndon will be able to do what Jones could not and create that missing spark in the return game.
The young guy wearing number 81 on his back considers Malcom Floyd his mentor and a player he wants to fashion himself after.
When asked about the similarities of Allen and Herndon and how their playing opportunities came about, Floyd said “I’m sure it’s tougher when you get your opportunity (when a teammate gets hurt), but I don’t think it’s tougher once you get out there. Your opportunity’s the same. I’m sure they hate it had to come at the expense of one of their buddies, but they are excited to get their chance. But I don’t think those two comparisons are parallel in the sense of expectations. We believe in Javontee, but I don’t think we should be thinking this will be like the Keenan of 2013. That’s not fair to him. I’m sure Javontee is fired up, but hates that it happened because Keenan can’t play. But once you get going, you’ve got to go.”
Said Herndon on his upcoming debut:
“I have more experience as a punt returner, but at the end of the day it’s about just going out there and making the play,” he said. “I don’t have as much experience at kickoff return, but if I get the chance, I’ll just go out there and run. The coaches told me just run north and south. Just get some yards. We need some yards. It’s about the field position, and that’s what I’m going to try to do my best to get.”
Herndon had one kick return go for 24 yards plus a solitary 12 yard catch after he was pressed into more playing time once Floyd went out of the game.
Could the divisional game against the Chiefs see the young wideout (6’4″, 204 pounds) take the field? Since signing with the team in May as an UDFA from Western Oregon, the talented rookie has spent his time on the practice squad, with the exception of an appearance against the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason.
At his pro day he ran the 40 in 4.38 and 4.42 seconds, which would have been fifth best if he had been invited to the NFL Combine. He has prototypical size, a mean streak as a blocker and great quickness when setting up defenders and making a move. He also possesses great hands, especially when in traffic and on jump balls. He has a wide catching radius and an impressive vertical (39.5″) to go up and get footballs. After the catch, he is a load to bring down. For the Wolves, Williams played both as outside and slot receiver and his 164 career receptions are a Western Oregon record. In his senior year, he hauled in 56 passes for 950 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished his college career with 165 catches for 2,792 yards and 21 touchdowns.
All in all, this group looks like they could rule from goal line to goal line. However, as we have all seen thus far, looking good on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to the playing field. The first and second options will be on the sidelines, watching second stringers and practice squad guys play in their place.
What started with such promise has pretty much crash and burned, and it’s only week ten. Disheartening, certainly. Yet this team has shown us over the years that they have gumption. Whether they manage it this time around is anybody’s guess. With a 2-7 record it appears the best the Chargers can do is focus on the future and a top ten pick in the 2016 draft.
Maybe the retiring of LT’s No. 21 jersey on November 22 will be the catalyst the Bolts need to kick butt the rest of the way.
When all is said and done…I just hope the bleeding of the blue and gold comes to a stop pretty damn quick.
Thanks for reading!