Gates has missed the last three games following a flare up in his lengthy bout with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
Gates tore scar tissue near the injury Sept. 18 against New England. He hopes prolonged rest will alleviate the pain that hinders his effectiveness.
Monday was the first step in his return. Gates hopes to practice the rest of the week, but remains cautious about his playing status for Sunday's road game.
"We're making progress, but 'One day at a time' has been our motto since this thing started," Gates said. "But it's encouraging that we're taking some steps in the right direction. The tough part is that I can go out and feel good, but the scar tissue is always in jeopardy of popping. There's always a danger of a minor setback. There's no cure that can fix the problem, especially with the force I use to run around and make plays. You just hope that you don't tear something and have a setback."
Gates said he didn't truly test the injury. That will come later in the week, when he decides whether to make a run at playing. His first practice in almost a month was itself a huge hurdle, one that gives him confidence.
"Mentally, today was huge for me because I was able to go out and practice," Gates said. "I have to overcome the mental part of this thing, because it's certainly taken a toll on me. I do think that I'm growing, but I still have to reach a point where I believe in my foot and I have trust in my physical ability."
Coach Norv Turner was encouraged to see his tight end playing football again, and remains hopeful that Gates can get back in a rhythm with the offense.
"He always looks good when he's out there," Turner said. "He went through part of practice, but we're going to make evaluations every day. Hopefully, he's able to continue and he doesn't have a setback during the week. I'm excited to have him out there. I'm hopeful he can play, but I don't want to put that burden of a guarantee on him or us. Hopefully, he can continue to work this week and play on Sunday."
Also Monday, running backs Ryan Mathews (calf) and Mike Tolbert (concussion-like symptoms) practiced as the Chargers (4-1) returned from their bye weekend. Receiver Vincent Jackson (hamstring), did not, but is expected to work later in the week.