The Los Angeles Chargers met with the media for the first time since Hunter Henry suffered an ACL injury last week.
As you can imagine, the Bolts’ plans on how to move on with the tight end lost for an extended period of time were top of mind.
“You hate to see any of your teammates get hurt,” said Philip Rivers. “Obviously the impact Hunter has on the field and in the locker room, he was going to be a big part of our offense this year. Gosh, it happened on such a routine thing he’s done a million times, so I think first you feel terrible for him…. It will look different without Hunter in there, but thankfully we have another 10 practices or so counting the minicamp to continue to shape the offense for who we’re going to be.”
Naturally, questions abounded about whether the Bolts were considering adding a new tight end into the mix. More to the point, whether the team reached out to Antonio Gates after General Manager Tom Telesco last week said all options were on the table.
Philip Rivers noted he did speak with number 85, sharing that Gates’ thoughts are first and foremost about Henry.
“I have talked to him, and I kind of leave that between us,” Rivers said. “He first, like I said, hated it for Hunter. If something were to happen down the road, he wouldn’t have wanted it to come that way, with Hunter’s absence. So that was really more of our conversation.”
Head Coach Anthony Lynn was asked more directly to speculate on how Henry’s injury may have changed the Bolts’ plans at tight end, most notably in regard to the future Hall-of-Famer.
“It was never about his performance,” the head coach said. “These things happen to great players. I’ve played with some – Shannon Sharpe, Steve Atwater, Jerry Rice. It happens. I spoke to him last week just to check in on him. He’s doing fine. We’ll see what happens.”
Right now, the Bolts are focused on the players they have on their roster.
Outside of Virgil Green, the rest of the tight end corps is comprised of mostly unknown commodities. Sean Culkin spent all of 2017 on the active roster while Braedon Bowman was a member of the practice squad for most of the year. The group is rounded out by a pair of undrafted free agents in Cole Hunt and Ben Johnson.
Rivers knows it’s paramount to build chemistry with each of those young tight ends now that they’ll be pressed into a bigger role.
Thus, he’s made it a priority to accelerate the process.
“I’ve tried to make sure to communicate more, even on the routes in air getting those reps that maybe we wouldn’t have gotten (together),” he explained. “You take the first couple reps and then you’re out. Now it’s like, who’s going to emerge and play a bigger role than maybe they were going to? So, I’ve had to make more an emphasis in my mind to give that a little more attention.”
Meanwhile, Lynn added that it’s not only the tight ends who must step up. Expounding upon what Telesco said last week about the offense scheming up different packages and groupings to counter the loss of Henry, the head coach explained how it will be a total team effort across every position group.
“We’ll just see what we have at tight end, see who develops (and) who comes along after training camp,” he said. “Those targets (Henry was going to get) are probably going to go where the defense dictates sometimes. We feel like we have enough weapons where we don’t have to force the ball to one individual.”
As far as what that may entail, Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is wisely playing coy.
“I think if I gave away some of those secrets now it would kind of hurt us later, right? So, I would play that one a little close to the vest.”
At the same time, he noted that the team’s young arsenal of tight ends must step up.
“I saw an article about some of the young guys having to step up a couple of weeks ago even before that happened,” he said. “Nothing has changed from that standpoint. We’ve got some young guys that have shown some flashes. We’ve got to try to get them opportunities and see what they can do. It’s good that we’ve got Virgil in here. He knows the offense. He’s done some good things for us in the little bit you can see in the OTAs. We’ll just kind of see what happens with those young guys.”