As we near the start of training camp on July 30, we'll preview each position for the Los Angeles Chargers. Next up are the tight ends.
Antonio Gates –The future Hall of Famer shows no sign of slowing down as he enters his 15th season. Already established as the greatest pass-catching tight end in NFL history, his next touchdown catch will break a tie with Tony Gonzalez to set a new all-time mark for the position (112). Gates owns virtually every pass catching record in franchise history despite facing constant double and triple teams. He'll also look to climb the record books with Philip Rivers as the pair are one of the most productive duos the game has ever seen. They have combined for 84 touchdowns over the years, which is the third most between a QB and a receiver/tight end. Their next TD strike will move into a tie for second with Steve Young and Jerry Rice.
Hunter Henry –Versatile tight ends equally capable at blocking as they are catching passes are rare specimens in the modern NFL. Luckily, the Bolts have one of the best in the league in 22-year-old Hunter Henry. The 6-5, 250-pounder proved to be a complete player during his rookie year, leading all NFL tight ends with eight touchdown catches while opening holes for Melvin Gordon and company. Henry also caught 36 passes for 478 yards and experts note he is just scratching the surface.
Sean McGrath –A popular presence in the locker room, McGrath appeared in all 16 games a year ago. While he has a proven track record as a pass catcher, evidenced by his 2013 campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs in which he caught 26 passes for 302 yards and two scores, the Bolts use him more in a blocking capacity.
Jeff Cumberland –Los Angeles had high hopes for Cumberland a year ago before an Achilles injury suffered during the preseason cost him the entire season. He re-signed with the Chargers in April eager to make up for lost time. The 6-4, 260-pound tight end spent his first six seasons with the New York Jets, recording 86 receptions for 1,119 yards and 10 touchdowns over 65 career games.
Asante Cleveland –Cleveland makes life hell for the opposition as he's near impossible to shake once he latches onto you. The 6-5, 260-pound Miami product spent time with the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers before joining the Chargers. He appeared in four games last year for the Bolts.
Sean Culkin –Signed as an undrafted free agent in May, the 6-6, 245-pound tight end thrived in a blocking capacity for Missouri in a tough SEC conference. He caught 24 passes as a senior and left the Tigers with 61 career receptions for 601 yards and two TDs in 48 games.
We're Keeping Our Eye On…
Ricky Henne:It's a privilege any time you get a chance to watch Antonio Gates. He is a legit living legend, so I soak in every opportunity to catch him in action whether it's a spring workout, practice during the heat of training camp or on Sunday during the season. While I'm excited to watch Hunter Henry take another leap forward, and think there is going to be intense competition for the other tight end spots on the 53-man roster, I can't help but gravitate toward focusing on number 85 whenever he's out on the field.
Hayley Elwood:As Ricky mentioned, the competition for the tight ends behind Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry is fierce. With that said, I'm looking forward to seeing Jeff Cumberland back in action. A bonus for the TE this season is his history with Head Coach Anthony Lynn as Lynn was on the New York Jets' coaching staff during Cumberland's time there. Cumberland re-signing with the Chargers this offseason gives him another opportunity to show what he was brought in to do a year ago, before he was sidelined with his Achilles injury.