"You can't discredit the fact that I played going on 10 years; the aches and pains of playing (are) always there," said Gates. "But in terms of my foot and rehabbing that plantar fasciitis, I am able to get through practice at a rate that I wasn't able to do in past years. From that standpoint, I'm feeling great."
Gates, who turned 32 on June 18, has changed his approach as his age increased. He's more mindful about his training routine and diet than he was earlier in his career.
Last year saw him miss three more games, but he finished strong with seven touchdown catches and showing the burst late in the year that has made him among the game's elite tight ends since coming onto the scene as an undrafted rookie, and a basketball player, out of Kent State.
Gates said when the season starts he wants to hit the scale at 255 pounds, a little shy of his usual 260 playing weight.
"I just felt like, as you get older, that weight is harder to come off, it's harder to burn those calories that need to come off," he said. "As an athlete, I just think that's the key, when I watch guys that have longevity, and played for 15-16 years, the one thing definitely that I continuously hear is guys maintain their health and they control their weight."
The Chargers are heavy at tight end with Gates, Randy McMichael, Kory Sperry, Dante Rosario and rookie Ladarius Green. But make no mistake that Gates remains the focal point at his position for the Chargers' passing game.
"He has a grown a lot, in terms of understanding defenses," said coach Norv Turner. "He's hard to cover with one guy. When he gets matched up with one guy, he usually wins."
Gates finished last year with a team-high 64 catches for 778 yards and those seven scores as he continues to build on what could be a career which leads him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
If he gets there it's because Gates said he has grown as a player in ways that have nothing to do with lifting weights or practicing routes.
"As you get older, physically you get to a max," Gates said. "That's all you can do physically. Mentally, you continue to grow.
"Being hurt actually groomed me to being the player I am today because at the time, it forced me to be a guy to use my mental capacity to make plays."
RB Ronnie Brown
Howard Smith/U.S. Presswire
--Running back Ryan Mathews, a third-year pro, is anxious to see what he can pick up from Ronnie Brown. The Chargers will use Brown on third downs and as a backup to Mathews, who rushed for 1,000 yards last year. "I can't wait to pick his brain and just see how he works," Mathews said. "That's the main thing. Just see how a true vet that's been in the league for several years and has been successful, see how they work and how they prepare themselves and everything. I can learn a lot from him. He will definitely make me better."
--Brown was known as being among the first players to run the Wildcat formation when with the Dolphins. And the Chargers installed their version of it at this week's OTAs. "It's good for our defense to see, and if the opportunity presents itself we will use it," coach Norv Turner said. Mathews and Brown were taking direct snaps then handing the ball off with quarterback Philip Rivers lined up wide. Turner isn't a big fan of the Wildcat, in part, because he does have to put Rivers in harm's way without being protected.
--The Chargers hold their mini-camp June 19-21 at Chargers Park with five practices scheduled.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Norv's a great guy and just being familiar with some of the guys on the team, I thought I'd be able to come and fit in." - RB Ronnie Brown on why he picked the Chargers, which included being able to play in an offense run by Chargers coach Norv Turner.
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