Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chargers Spring Report -- Tight Ends


With the Chargers 2009 mini-camp just concluded, Chris Ello takes an inside look at how the Bolts stack up position-by-position during football's version of Spring Training.
Friday: Cornerbacks
Saturday: Safeties
Sunday: Outside Linebackers
Monday: Inside Linebackers
Tuesday: Defensive Ends
Wednesday: Defensive Tackles
Yesterday: Offensive Line
Today: Tight Ends
Tomorrow: Wide Receivers


Antonio Gates, 7th yr., Kent State: For most tight ends, a season with 60 receptions for 704 yards and 8 TD's would be called a career year. But for Antonio Gates, such a season in '08 had some skeptics wondering, "what's going on with his career?"
What's going on is that Gates is still probably the best tight end in the game.
But -- in part due to a toe injury suffered during the '07 playoffs -- Gates' numbers last season fell far below his totals from '03 to '07 when he made five consecutive Pro Bowls.
His 60 receptions were 11 fewer than any year since his rookie season. His 704 yards were 220 fewer than his low-water mark of 924 yards in '04 (again, excluding his rookie season).
The drop-off should motivate Gates to return to the off-the-chart numbers he posted prior to getting his big toe stuck in the Qualcomm Stadium turf during the '07 first-round playoff against Tennessee.
Those who don't think he can do it should be reminded that Gates has 5,066 receiving yards in his career and has scored 51 TD's. He reached the 5,000-yard mark the second-fastest in NFL history (only former Charger Kellen Winslow was faster), and he reached the 50-TD mark faster than any tight end who has ever played the game.
The big toe should finally be fully healed for '09, and as a result, Gates should reclaim his rightful place atop the tight end heap.


Brandon Manumaleuna, 9th yr., Arizona: Along with the fact that it's hard to spell or pronounce his last name, and along with the fact that he's a solid force blocking for the Chargers' running game, Manumaleuna provided some key catches for the Bolts in '09, his third season with the team.
Among his 15 receptions, six were good enough for first downs and two went for touchdowns. In his three Chargers seasons, he has scored a total of six times. Not bad for a guy who plays second-fiddle to Gates and is usually an afterthought in the passing game when he is on the field.
Mostly, though, when he's in there, the Chargers are going to run -- and Manumaleuna (6-2, 288 pounds) is considered one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the game.
Bottom line: when it comes to backup tight ends, few teams in the NFL can boast a talent as dependable as -- well, maybe it's just easier to call him Brandon.


Kory Sperry, Rookie, Colorado State: Signed as an undrafted free agent, Sperry has the size (6-foot-5, 238 pounds) and skill to provide a little more depth at the tight end position.
Some may remember Sperry dominating San Diego State in a game last season at Qualcomm Stadium when he caught 5 passes for 61 yards and 3 touchdowns. In his career at CSU, Sperry grabbed 141 passes for over 1,700 yards and scored 20 TD's.
Despite his eye-popping stats -- and size -- Sperry went undrafted because many NFL scouts aren't sure whether or not he'll be a capable run-blocker out of the three-point stance (well, that's what they said anyway).
However, Sperry could fill a role at the H-back position, if Norv Turner and company can figure out a way to incorporate him.

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