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Gates, Witten Credited for Changing Tight End Position
It was not too long ago that the tight end position differed greatly from what we know it as today. A major reason why it’s evolved from a predominantly blocking position to one of freakish athletes who are dangerous in the passing game is because of the two tight ends that will be out on the field this Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium – Antonio Gates and Jason Witten.
Many feel both men will end up in the Hall of Fame one day, and with good reason. In his 11th year, Gates has totaled 657 receptions for 8,549 yards and 84 touchdowns. Already holding numerous franchise records, last week he passed Lance Alworth for second in total touchdowns in team history. Also in his 11th season, Witten has recorded 822 catches for 9,097 yards and 46 touchdowns.
Having started his career with Dallas before joining the Bolts this season, John Phillips has had a front row seat to not only watch both of these two stars up close, but learn from them as well.
“They’re both Hall-of-Fame tight ends,” he said. “They do some different things, but essentially they are both really good players. Witten is a great route runner and really taught me a lot about how to be a professional when I first came into the league. Things like studying film and approaching every day. And Gates is an excellent athlete and is probably the best tight end ever at getting open. He essentially goes out there and uses that athletic ability to find open space. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around both of these guys to learn a lot.”
Chalk Head Coach Mike McCoy up as another who is a huge fan of what both Gates and Witten bring to their respective offenses..
“They’re very talented,” he said. “They’re different in their own ways. I think they’re the quarterback’s best friend. They have a lot of confidence in how they play the game and what they do and the way they run routes and everything, but they’re very good football players. It’s great to have guys like that; weapons you know. Regardless of what the situation is, whether it’s in the red area, whether it’s third down, the game’s on the line, (they are guys) that you know you can count on.”
Phillips is one of many who believe the tight end position has changed dramatically over the years crediting both Gates and Witten for setting the gold standard for the position.
“The thing I like about both of these guys, which is what I like about myself too, is that we do a bit of everything,” he said. “We pass catch, block and do whatever is needed. I think the tight ends nowadays are more versatile. And that’s changed the game. The tight end is so dangerous now because you can line up and they can throw the nickel at you, and you can block them and spring a big run. Or if they run a linebacker at you, you go out and run a route. Those are the kind of tight ends that are dangerous, and that is what Gates and Witten have done to this league.”
How does Gates feel the position has changed from when he was a rookie back in 2003?
“Drastically,” he said. “I remember coming into this league and at the time Stephen Alexander was the tight end here. He came from Washington, and I remember him telling me vividly like it was yesterday, ‘If you catch 50 balls, you’ll go to the Pro Bowl.’ That was the standard to me. You caught 50 passes; you can make the Pro Bowl. And he had come off a Pro Bowl year in Washington. Now, you see the contributions that the tight ends have made in the NFL, and in fantasy football which is so big now, it’s unbelievable. Now every weekend you see a tight end catching a touchdown and you see a tight end with 100 yards. That wasn’t the standard when I came into the league. To me, getting 100 yards receiving was pretty much spectacular. To do things I was able to do in the red area was not the norm for the tight ends, but (now) you see it happening every single week.”
Gates also credited the likes of Kellen Winslow Sr. and Tony Gonzalez as guys who paved the way for him and Witten, who in turn paved the way for the Rob Gronkowski’s and Jimmy Graham’s of the league. One more player Gates is determined to pave the way for is Ladarius Green, the second-year Chargers tight end who is beginning to show flashes of big-time playmaking ability.
“Absolutely,” Gates answered when asked if Green fit in to the new mold of tight end. “You saw him make plays last weekend. He’s maturing rapidly at a fast pace. He’s ready to become one of those star status tight ends in this league. I try to give him all the knowledge and experience I have, and hopefully he can make that transition. He’s an upcoming star. I really believe that. He’s just got to get a chance to show it more. He’s like my little brother. It’s like one of those things where you’re rooting for your little brother. Obviously I’m the older brother (and) I’ve done everything that you can possibly do. I’m all about team. I’m all about doing whatever it takes for us to win a championship, and just helping him and watching him mature and watching him grow as a player, you get a satisfaction almost like a parent would get watching their children mature.”