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Gates mortal after all?

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Sep 12, 2008.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006
    September 11, 2008

    In between his first and second games as a decoy in last January's postseason, Antonio Gates was talking about what it was like to be hurt for the first time in his career.
    Essentially, what it was like to be mortal.
    “I realize all the things I took for granted,” he said at the time. “I realize now how good I've been. I didn't know what I could do that other guys can't.”
    A four-time Pro Bowler, Gates has 15 more touchdowns than any tight end in the NFL over the past four seasons. In that span, his 4,034 yards are second-most in the league among tight ends (behind Tony Gonzalez). Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow is the only tight end in league history to have more yards in his first five seasons than Gates' 4,362.
    It had, Gates acknowledged, all been sort of easy.
    Now, still hurt, a healing big toe and a bruised hip limiting him in last week's season opener and in both practices this week, Gates has begun to see the blessing in his pain, even as the painful scar tissue and limitations he is experiencing frustrate him.
    “Mentally, I have to know what (the defenders) are doing,” Gates said this week. “Before, it didn't matter what they were doing. I felt like if a linebacker was on me, I could still run at a speed and a rate that I could still make a play.
    “It was due time for me to grow mentally. I think had I never experienced this, the physical part of it was going to always be like . . . that guy you see who can run and catch and never truly wants to learn the game because he plays at a high level just off his physical ability. I take a different perspective now.”
    That perspective, he compared to a quarterback, as he spends extra time watching film and trying to understand coverages and what defenses do.
    “A lot of Gates' routes are . . . not freelance, but he has some leeway,” quarterback Philip Rivers said.
    In other words, Gates is supposed to be somewhere, but how and whether he gets to that spot and when Rivers gets him the ball is often up to what Gates sees.
    It's an extravagance only an exceptional athlete can pull off. And Gates still can. When a play from the Carolina 24 broke down in the fourth quarter Sunday, Gates and Rivers simply ad-libbed.
    “It was totally backyard at that point,” Rivers said.
    As Rivers rolled left looking for either Gates or Chris Chambers, Gates ran away from the defensive back covering him and into the end zone as Rivers found him with the ball.
    It looked like the old Gates.
    And truth be told, for all the outside talk of Gates being slowed on Sunday and his own wondering aloud whether he can be effective, the difference in Gates is hardly discernible to the naked eye.
    “Just some things when I played last game, I can feel the difference,” said Gates, who led the Chargers on Sunday with four catches for 61 yards. “(Defenders) might not know the difference. They know they're guarding 85. I can feel certain separation, certain routes, and I'm like, 'It didn't used to be this way.' ”
    But that's enough for him to feel the need for extra work. For Gates, a weakened toe means a strengthened mind.
    “When I get healthy and put both of those together,” he said. “I will become a complete player.”

    By Kevin Acee

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