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Position Preview: Tight Ends
SAN DIEGO – Rarely do the best players in a professional sport intersect.
LeBron James and Dwayne Wade’s pact with the Miami Heat aside, one of the big names lags a pace or two behind the other more often than not, enough to achieve a healthy sum of talent and still avoid friction.
Think Wade and Shaquille O’Neal on the 2006 NBA Championship team in Miami.
A former South Beach resident, Randy McMichael, along with Antonio Gates, gives the Chargers that kind of pair at tight end.
Signed by San Diego as a free agent this offseason, McMichael started all but one of his 116 career games with the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams and caught 49, 73, 60 and 62 passes in consecutive years from 2003-06.
But the Chargers already have an all-time great in Gates, who unleashed a 1,157-yard season last year and should reach 500 career receptions this season.
Gates can become the fastest tight end ever to reach the milestone with 23 catches by Week 7, which would put him a game ahead of Tony Gonzalez’ pace. The most productive tight end in NFL history, Gonzalez didn’t catch his 500th NFL pass until Week 8 of his eighth season, which Gates enters this year.
The 6-foot-4, 260-pound athlete acts in many ways like a premier receiver, which McMichael also was during time with the Dolphins. Reliable veteran Kris Wilson enters his third season with San Diego with a solid overall skill set, and rookies Dedrick Epps, Richie Brockel and DajLeon Farr hope to add to the team as well.
“It’s just exciting to see. You establish an atmosphere around here and they’re following suit,” Gates said of his teammates. “Every day I’m in the building I try to set an example. I take notes. I do the things that are expected at this level. Hopefully we can continue to do that as a unit and continue to get known as one of the best tight end groups in the league.”
Don’t expect McMichael to contradict that attitude. The 31-year-old called it an honor to play with Gates.
“I feel humbled and excited at the same time,” McMichael said. “I feel like I’ve been in a dormant state for three years (and) my time has finally come.”
Perhaps the best group of veteran tight ends in the NFL puts the rookies in a challenging position as they try to assert themselves. Epps, a seventh-round pick, didn’t excel in a specific aspect at the University of Miami but lined up all over the field and was able to make contributions in multiple areas.
Brockel (6-1, 251) and Farr (6-5, 256) each feel most comfortable with their blocking abilities but trust their versatility will make them attractive players.
|TIGHT ENDS AT A GLANCE|
Needs 23 catches to reach 500 for his career … Gained a career-best 1,157 receiving yards last season … Seeks seventh Pro Bowl selection … Missed a portion of OTAs as a precautionary measure to treat plantar fasciitis, which isn’t expected to be a concern entering the season … As many as 19 teams wanted to give him a tryout after the NBA considered him too much of a tweener out of Kent State. San Diego, the first team in line, signed him right away despite the fact that he didn’t play football in college.
Will reach 4,000 career receiving yards on his first catch with San Diego if it’s at least four yards … Caught 195 passes for 12 touchdowns during a three-year span with the Dolphins before signing with St. Louis in 2007 … Can claim the most prolific season by a tight end in Miami’s history with his 73 catches and 791 receiving yards … Has started 115 of his 116 career games.
Scored his first career playoff touchdown Jan. 17 against the New York Jets, giving the Chargers a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter … Collected a career-best 24 receptions for Kansas City in 2007 … Taught himself to speak Portuguese … Created the Kris Wilson Foundation, which focuses on learning, reading and literacy for disadvantaged youth throughout Pennsylvania.
Lined up at right end, fullback and H-back for the Miami Hurricanes ... Gained a career-best 101 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown catch, at N.C. State in 2008 … Was the first Miami tight end to reach 100 yards in a game since Chicago Bears tight end Greg Olsen in 2005.
Considers his athleticism as a downfield blocker to be his biggest strength … Finished career at Boise State with 32 catches for 293 yards and eight touchdowns … Played with Chargers wide receiver Legedu Naanee at Boise State in 2006 … Graduated Cum Laude in 2008 and added a master’s degree in accounting last year.
Caught 24 passes for 210 yards during his college career … Transferred from Miami to Memphis for senior season … Maintains athletic frame that’s one inch taller and four pounds lighter than Gates … Counts horseback riding as hobby despite spending most of his life in Houston, Miami and Memphis.
Week 1 starting tight ends, 2000-09:
2000: Freddie Jones.
2001: Freddie Jones.
2002: Stephen Alexander.
2003: Josh Norman.
2004: Antonio Gates.
2005: Justin Peelle.
2006: Antonio Gates.
2007: Antonio Gates, Brandon Manumaleuna.
2008: Antonio Gates, Brandon Manumaleuna.
2009: Antonio Gates.
Week 1 tight ends on roster, 2000-09:
2000: Freddie Jones, Steve Heiden, Reggie Davis.
2001: Freddie Jones, Steve Heiden.
2002: Stephen Alexander, Josh Norman, Justin Peelle.
2003: Josh Norman, Justin Peelle, Stephen Alexander.
2004: Antonio Gates, Justin Peelle, Ryan Krause.
2005: Justin Peelle, Ryan Krause, Landon Trusty.
2006: Antonio Gates, Brandon Manumaleuna, Aaron Shea.
2007: Antonio Gates, Brandon Manumaleuna, Scott Chandler.
2008: Antonio Gates, Brandon Manumaleuna, Kris Wilson.
2009: Antonio Gates, Brandon Manumaleuna, Kris Wilson.