Loosen up, Charger fans. The Chargers offense will be back to top form in 2009. One of the main reasons – the success at the tight end position.
Antonio Gates continues to be one of the top players at his position and one of the better athletes in the league. In 2008, Gates amassed 704 yards on 60 catches (11.7 avg.) and finished with eight touchdowns. These were all Gates’s lowest totals since his rookie season in 2003. Gates, who signed as an undrafted free agent, finished the year with 389 yards on 24 catches.
Gates remains bothered by injuries sustained in 2007 and 2008 seasons. Gates big toe is not to par, an injury that hindered him in the 2007 playoff run. Gates sprained his ankle in 2008 and this, coupled with quarterback Philip Rivers’s ever-improving ability to spread the field brought Gates’s numbers down. However, Gates’s recovery seems eminent and Rivers will be more than happy to have his favorite target back at 100 percent. Expect these two to find a rhythm in 2009.
Gates’s success in 2009 will depend on his ability to get healthy, but also, the play of his supporting cast. Yes, the talent of the wide receiver and running back corps will loosen up coverage on Gates. However, consider the players playing behind Gates in the tight end position. They will provide Gates with relief and contribute to the Chargers offense in more ways than one.
Kris Wilson is currently listed as a fullback on the Chargers roster. At 6-2 and 251 pounds, Wilson has played fullback for much of his career. However, as Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner says, “He’s a tight end.”
Wilson has not generated much offense in his career, totaling just 13 yards on four rushes and 345 yards on 42 receptions with four touchdowns in five seasons. Still, Wilson remains tenacious and hard working. He has proven himself an effective blocker and has begun to better understand the Chargers offense.
Wilson will continue to line up as a tight end in double tight end formations and will block off of the end in many running packages. He may also line up as a fullback in some packages, namely in goalline situations. Wilson will continue to contribute on special teams. He may also be called on to make a catch or two. Essentially, save kicking, Wilson could be asked to do just about anything on offense. And that’s alright with Wilson, who understands the need to remain open for anything.
“When you’re playing on a talented football team, you just have to earn your way out there,” Wilson said.
Fellow tight end Brandon Manumaleuna can appreciate the playing styles of both Gates and Wilson. Manumaleuna has a quiet demeanor, but at 6-2, 288 pounds, he makes plenty of noise on the field. Brandon (many have found it easier to call Manumaleuna by his first name) can provide for the much-needed reception and lay a block to spring the long run.
Manumaleuna ended 2008 with 15 receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns. These numbers are not very impressive. However, several of these receptions were for first downs in critical situations. Moreover, like Wilson, Manumalenua takes on a range of responsibilities. He too knows what it means to be a team player and more importantly, what it takes for the Chargers offense to be successful.