Chargers TE Antonio Gates relishes complementary role

SAN DIEGO -- For over the past decade, Antonio Gates has had a bull’s-eye on his back.

Heading into a game, the longtime Los Angeles Chargers tight end knew the focus of the opposing team’s game plan would be to make sure Gates didn’t beat them.

Now entering his 15th season, Gates has plenty of playmakers around him for other teams to worry about.

Keenan Allen has the talent of a No. 1 receiver if he can stay healthy. Hunter Henry came into his own as a rookie and should emerge as the Chargers’ No. 1 option at tight end in his second season. Melvin Gordon showed last season he can be a force in the running game.

And speedy receivers Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin proved their worth to the Chargers last season with their ability to stretch the field.

Gates might be the Chargers’ third or fourth option on offense in 2017, and he’s fine with that.

“Collectively, as a unit, we’re very talented,” Gates said. “Hopefully, I can get situations and matchups I can take advantage of.

“I’ve already said this to Keenan, because he’s going to have to take us to the promised land in the passing game. He’s the guy. I have no problem with saying that. The thing is that, sometimes when you get into these tough games, it’s the third or fourth options that win it for you. I like to think that I can get that done.”

Gates attended offseason workouts early on but said he was absent during organized team activities because of a personal matter. He looked like his old self during the handful of reps he received on the first day of the Chargers’ mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, shaking loose for a couple of receptions in the middle of the field.

“He’s got some juice left -- oh, yeah,” said Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, when asked how much Gates has left in the tank.

Added quarterback Philip Rivers: “The guy is just so competitive. Not that he needs any more fuel, but when he comes and, ‘Oh, does he have any more left?’ If he does hear that chatter, he’s smiling inside, ‘I’ll have to show y’all one more time.’ But he looks good out there. He and Hunter together can be dangerous.”

The issue for the Chargers is how much to limit Gates’ workload so they can get the most out of the future Hall of Famer.

Gates needs one more touchdown to eclipse Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions (897), receiving yards (11,192) and touchdown catches (111).

Gates said the only numbers he’s concerned about this season are wins.

“The focus is us, the team and togetherness,” Gates said. “That’s what it’s all about, being out here practicing and getting the right reps that are appropriate for me for my age, so I can go out and perform.”