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.
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
“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|
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.
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.