TE Antonio Gates (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)
Tight end Antonio Gates is one of those rare football players who enjoys practice just as much as the games. But Gates has been on the outside looking in at the off-season coaching sessions as his mending big left toe doesn't allow his participation.
Antonio Gates was hurt in the playoff-opening win over the Titans. He was a shadow of himself when the Chargers upset the Colts then fell to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Gates underwent surgery in late February and was told his recovery period was expected to be between four-to-six months.
The plan was for Gates to start running in late May, but that has yet to happen. It's possible he won't test his toe until June; the prospects of being ready for training camp seem slim.
Instead, the Chargers' fingers are crossed that he can go by Sept. 7, when the team opens the season against the visiting Carolina Panthers.
Gates, who had team-highs last season with 75 catches for 984 yards and nine touchdowns, doesn't want a return visit to the pain that wrecked his game during the two most important games of his career. He gets high marks for being tough, but it was obvious he wasn't performing at his usual Pro Bowl level.
"With our situation, we had to take a chance," Gates said. "It was a blessing for me to actually play in those games. It was so painful.
"When I look back on those games and all the stuff I was going through to play in the games, I just say, 'Wow.' Something enabled me. It was more than just natural strength."
The Patriots picked up on Gates' lack of mobility. They were able to cover him with linebackers instead of defensive backs, something few teams dare to do.
So while Gates sits, Scott Chandler gets reps with the first team as the pass-catching tight end. Chandler, in his second year, played in but one game last season.
But while not absorbing many snaps, he was like a sponge in watching the starters.
"You go back and look at it and it was a really good chance to learn," Chandler said. "You get to watch Gates and Brandon (Manumaleuna) every week. I didn't have any pressure on me to perform during games. It's something I'll look back on and I'll be glad that I had, but obviously you want to be in the (NFL) to play."
--OT L.J. Shelton, who is among the newest Chargers, has been seeing some work at right tackle with the second unit. "I've seen L.J. a lot in games coaching against him," coach Norv Turner said. "He's a really good player. He looks good. He's where I expected him to be in May. We need to get him in shape over the next three months, but that's what this off-season program is for."
--RG Mike Goff is still steamed with what people said about LaDainian Tomlinson being unable to play in the AFC Championship Game after the first two series because of a knee injury. Some speculated Tomlinson was wrong for not trying to play through the pain of a sprained knee.
"People will voice their opinions and if that is the opinion that they want to voice, that is fine," he said. "But those closest to L.T., and those knowing L.T., know that obviously wasn't the case. If he wasn't out there, there was a reason for it and so I think everybody else can just blow it out their (rear)."
--Nothing new on the stadium front as the Chargers await a study on the possibility of the team building a stadium in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb some 15 miles south of Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers can leave after the 2008 season by paying off the bonds from the Qualcomm Stadium renovation.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not in pads and we're not emphasizing the physical parts of the game. We're trying to work on technique and the skills and a lot of situations. I think we get a lot done in these sessions." -- Chargers coach Norv Turner on the off-season coaching sessions.