Closed Gates? Foot Flare-Up Causes Concerns

Tight end Antonio Gates says it, so we'll believe it: his foot is fine.

"Just taking precautionary action because of the struggles in the past and all the things I have been through," Gates said Friday. "It never was a major problem; it was something I wanted to make sure wasn't any worse."

The Chargers conducted minicamp without their stellar tight end. Gates was out with a foot injury, and oh, isn't that a road we've been done before?

With his various foot ailments behind him, Gates was solid last year: a team-high 79 catches for 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns.

Then instead of Gates being at the minicamp sessions, he was being examined by the same North Carolina foot specialist who previously doctored him.

But Gates, a six-time Pro Bowler, said it's a minor injury on the "other" foot.

He has a slight case of plantar fasciitis, but in his right, not left foot.

"That was the one that compensated though everything the last couple of years," said Gates, who resumes running in two-to-three weeks. "The right foot has been more than special for me if I must say so."

Gates' skills come with wisdom. He's aware the clock is ticking on the Chargers cashing in big. Those four straight AFC West titles are dandy, but...

"We all know the opportunity window closes as time passes and that is one thing we are all aware of in this locker room, especially me and the guys that have been around," Gates said.

"You get a small percentage of trying to win the championship, period, in your whole career. When you think about it, the odds of winning are so small that you have to take advantage of it whenever having the opportunity and we understand that."

Gates gets it. And for the Chargers to get to a Super Bowl there's no better time.

"Hey, next year some things might change," Gates said. "You can see it has changed dramatically from last year to now."

Gates swears he'll be fine by training camp and nothing dramatically is wrong with his foot.

"I think he was smart taking care of himself," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "You saw last year he was healthy for the season and that was his best year."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES


RB Ryan Mathews
--Ryan Mathews finally got to dip his toe into the NFL waters.

OK, it was minicamp -- which can be glorified touch football.

But even if it was just jerseys and shorts, Mathews got a taste of the pros.

Unable to attend previous OTAs because of school, Mathews' learning curve was on a minicamp fast track.

"I still have a lot to learn but it was real fun," said Mathews, the Chargers' top pick.

The key, the Chargers think, isn't getting Mathews to find the right hole. He proved at Fresno State he is a sensational prospect.

What the Chargers are concerned about is pass protection. When there's $92 million invested in quarterback Philip Rivers, he must be kept upright.

So for Mathews to see the field more, he has to see more than daylight and then running to it. He needs to know the daylights out of pass-rusher -- or at least impede their path to Rivers.

Coach Norv Turner thinks Mathews has an edge. Not only has he proven, in this short time, to be football smart, but Mathews has some good teachers.

"If you're Ryan Mathews and playing running back and you got (Darren) Sproles there, Jacob (Hester) there and (Mike) Tolbert there, those are guys that really understand what we are doing," Turner said. "So they help speed the process.

"Ryan is a real sharp guy and I'm really pleased in what he got done this week.

But any talk of Mathews quickly turns to running. With the Chargers turning the page on the LaDainian Tomlinson Era, all eyes are on Mathews.

"One thing that is exciting is when he knows what to do and gets that ball in his hands," Turner said. "He is an exciting runner."

--QB Philip Rivers would love having the team's disgruntled restricted free-agent quartet of Marcus McNeill, Shawne Merriman, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd taking part in the offseason workouts. But Rivers can always read a calendar. "I don't like to minimize the significance of practice," Rivers said last week, "but it is May."

--TE Antonio Gates was noticing the number of new faces at minicamp, while also noting the absence of LaDainian Tomlinson. "It's always weird," he said, of not spotting No. 21. "I played with him for so long. I was one of the guys who was around when we were doing that whole rebuilding thing."

--QB Jonathon Crompton, the team's fifth-round pick, signed a four-year contract.

--Coach Norv Turner enjoyed having former USC and Rams coach John Robinson at training camp practices last year. But Robinson's time is getting stretched -- he's coaching defense at nearby San Marcos High School next season.

--WR Buster Davis neglected again to take advantage of an opportunity. With Jackson and Floyd skipping the minicamp, Davis was mostly sideline with a concussion. Davis, a former first-round pick, continues to be plagued by various injuries.

--SS Kevin Ellison, who started the second half of last season, was told by team officials not to attend the minicamp because of his recent arrest on a drug charge.

--K Nate Kaeding got in his first work since injuring his groin in Pro Bowl workouts. Many are interested to see how Kaeding rebounds after missing three field goals in the Chargers' playoff loss to the Jets.

--The Chargers start their final OTA sessions next week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't take it for granted and you can tell we got the sense of urgency." -- TE Antonio Gates on the Chargers window of opportunity.

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