When it comes to the tight end position, the San Diego Chargers have had little worries in the past decade. Antonio Gates has brought stability to the position in America’s Finest City since 2003 during an impressive run that includes eight Pro Bowls. Gates should pass Lance Alworth as the Chargers’ franchise career receiving leader sometime in 2014, and last year, showed he still has plenty left in the tank. While Gates can still produce at a high level, this season should bring about a “passing of the torch” scenario.
The Chargers have a young, 24-year old beast by the name of Ladarius Green waiting in the wings to breakout. Green showed, especially later in the year, he has the potential to dominate opposing secondaries. The 6’6” 240 pound tight end is bigger, faster, and can jump higher than Gates, but doesn’t quite know how to play the position like the future Hall of Famer. Gates route-running and blocking ability are exceptional, and if Green wants to see more snaps, he will have to do these little things to start seeing more targets.
While these two players will be competing against each other, they also will spend a lot of time on the field together. Mike McCoy has shown he favors “12” personnel — a formation featuring two tight ends, two wide receivers, and one running back. This allows the Bolts to use their tight ends like an additional wide receiver while creating mismatches in the defensive box. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to play a more physical brand of football with the two tight end set providing more beef up front.
These two players are locks to make the team and see most of the playing time, but the Chargers have five other tight ends hoping to make the roster. David Johnson was a 2014 free agency signing from the Pittsburgh Steelers and is known for excellent run blocking abilities. Johnson should be the next tight end assured to make the roster with what he can bring in short-yardage situations. The other four tight ends (John Phillips, Ryan Otten, Jake Byrne, and Mike Flacco) will have to have big camps in order to make the roster. Phillips is entering his sixth year and can provide veteran leadership to the position, but has been put on notice with the Johnson signing. Otten and Byrne are both young players who have bounced around a few teams already in their career, and are hoping to put together some solid film to win a position on a NFL roster. Lastly, Michael Flacco is an undrafted rookie who could make the practice squad if he has a good camp. He shouldn’t be expected to be a player this year, but could backup Green once Gates retires if he can develop accordingly.
The Chargers are deep at the tight end position, and we will see if 2014 is the year Ladarius Green becomes a household name.