Veteran tight end Antonio Gates returns to Chargers Park this week to begin preparation for his first regular-season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. Gates was suspended the first four weeks of the season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Ladarius Green filled in admirably with Gates gone. Green is fourth on the team in receptions with 14 for 174 yards and two scores. But Green missed a Week 3 game against the Minnesota Vikings because of a concussion, and does not command the type of attention from an opposing defense that Gates demands.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers also gets his security blanket back in Gates. The two have combined for the most touchdowns by a quarterback and a tight end duo in NFL history with 72. His 99 touchdowns since joining the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Kent State in 2003 are the most in the NFL by any player over the last 12 seasons.
And Gates' 36 touchdown catches on third-down plays rank fourth in league history among all players, and most among tight ends.
"We'll be excited to have him back in there," Rivers said. "He helps us on the field and in the locker room. We've certainly missed him. So it will be a plus. We're acquiring a Hall of Fame free agent here in about 24 hours."
It's great timing for the Chargers who have potentially lost WRs Malcom Floyd (concussion) and Stevie Johnson (hamstring) for Week 5. Gates should have a role right away upon his return as a result, but it remains to be seen how quickly he'll be back to game-form. With a lack for WRs, the Bolts may show more two, TE looks this week. It appears more and more Green's targets could take a hit, perhaps especially in the red zone where Gates is expected to be a big weapon.