Gates an excused absence; Hardwick injured

SAN DIEGO – Veteran tight end Antonio Gates was the only person not in attendance on the first day of the San Diego Chargers’ mandatory minicamp on Monday.

Gates has not been visible at any of the organized team practices open to reporters this offseason. San Diego coach Mike McCoy said that Gates is dealing with a very personal situation, and has been excused from practice, meaning he will not be subject to potential fines.

According to Bernie Wilson of the Associated Press, Gates is believed to be dealing with an illness in his family.

“I’ve talked with him quite a bit,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “I think you just tell him that you love him and support him, and you’re with him. And you tell him to come back when you know it’s right. I think coach (McCoy) and everybody else handled it great.

“You hate it for him because I know he misses it. He’s one of those guys -- and I’m much the same way -- in that he enjoys the locker room and the joking around. He enjoys that part of it. And I know he misses being around everybody. So when the time is right and everything is taken care of, he’ll be back.”

With Gates not in attendance, Ladarius Green and blocking tight end David Johnson have been getting more reps with the starters.

“We’ve kind of made the remark the DJ (Johnson) has caught a lot more balls these last few months than he’s ever seen come his way,” Rivers said. “I think it’s been good. I think when we get Gates back, it will be a bonus.”

Hardwick suffers foot injury: Midway through practice, center Nick Hardwick went down during an 11-on-11 team drill in the red zone and struggled to get up, hobbling over to the sidelines. The injury initially looked concerning, but Hardwick was seen with a walking boot on his right foot after practice, and McCoy indicated that his starting center will be fine.

Rich Ohrnberger replaced Hardwick at center with the first unit. The Chargers already are operating without starting right guard Jeromey Clary up front as he rehabs from shoulder and hip surgery. Johnnie Troutman has been working at right guard with the starters with Clary unavailable.

Rookie offensive lineman Chris Watt worked at right guard with the second unit, while Nick McDonald played center with the second unit with Ohrnberger working with the starters.

“I was just glad it wasn’t too bad,” Rivers said. “He’s one of a kind, and he’s so tough. He had a big smile on his face, ‘Yeah, get Rich. Get Ohrnberger; I’m done.’ ... So yeah, hopefully he’ll be fine. He’ll get a five week, two day break instead of having to work these last two days.”

Brown showing what he can do: Receiver Vincent Brown had another strong practice on Tuesday, catching several passes during 7-on-7 and two-minute drills while working with the starters. The San Diego State product has been the team’s most impressive and consistent receiver so far during camp, as he battles for time in a crowded group that includes Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal.

“He contributed more than maybe you think last year,” Rivers said about Brown. “He had a solid season, but maybe not a lot of the production that he had hoped for, or that he’s capable of. But I think he’s had a great offseason.

“He’s consistently made plays out here over the last two months – he’s just been very steady. He’s still a young player. He missed a year with an injury. So what he’s done this offseason is exciting. He’s continuing to improve.”

Roll call: Gates was the only player absent. Safety Jahleel Addae, tackle Michael Harris (ankle), cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder), tight end John Phillips (knee) and Freeney (quad) were not full participants in practice. However, Freeney, Harris, Verrett and Phillips all worked through individual drills. … Sixth round selection running back Marion Grice (leg) fully participated in practice for the first time during offseason workouts. … New rookie safety Adrian Phillips is wearing No. 44.