SAN DIEGO -- Tight end Antonio Gates was mostly a spectator during offseason work, watching his potential replacement Ladarius Green make some spectacular catches from Philip Rivers during mandatory minicamp just a few weeks ago at Chargers Park.
Gates, 35, usually takes it easy during the offseason in order to give his aging body a rest and let younger players get more reps.
Heading into his 13th season, Gates has totaled an impressive 788 receptions for 10,014 yards and 99 touchdowns in what likely will push him to a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Gates, however, will have to get familiar with the role of observer for at least the first quarter of the regular season, as he serves a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances.
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, the athletic Green has the physical tools to replace the productive Gates. He just needed a chance to show it.
Green, 25, had more catches (19) last season than he totaled in 2013 (17). However, Green finished with just four plays of 20-plus yards in 2014; he averaged 22.1 yards per catch two years ago. But he failed to find the end zone in 2014 and scored three touchdowns in 2013.
Nagging injuries affected Green’s playing time last season. He missed two games because of concussion and ankle and hamstring issues, which limited his role in the offense.
Green played 274 (27 percent) of San Diego’s offensive snaps compared to 350 in 2013. The Chargers could look to get him involved more near the end zone. Green had three targets and one reception in the red zone last season, compared to four red zone targets in 2013.
Both Gates and Green are entering the final year of their contracts. Gates has indicated he would be willing to play beyond 2015 if he feels good. But the Chargers have to figure out if Green is the eventual replacement for Gates.
The first four games of 2015 will serve as an audition for the future starting tight end job for Green.