Teammate on Gates: 'The best'

SAN DIEGO -- One of the most promising images of the San Diego Chargers' camp this season has been the play of tight end Antonio Gates.

He looks like Antonio Gates.

The man who faces him every day in practice is so sold that the potential Hall of Fame tight end is completely back to form after dealing with several foot-related injuries for the past four years, that he has a message for the rest of the NFL.

“He’s going to be the best tight end in the NFL this year,” San Diego Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said Thursday. “The best. You can’t guard him … I know there are a lot good tight ends coming up in the league, but Antonio is the best. He looks that good. He hasn’t looked this good since my rookie season.”

Weddle was a rookie in 2007. That was Gates’ last truly healthy season. The amazing thing about Gates, 32, is that he has put solid numbers up during his injury battles, which often kept him out of practice. Now that he is fully healthy, the Chargers expect big things out of Gates, who has also slimmed down some to go along with his improved health.

Weddle said he knew early in the offseason that Gates would be primed for a big 2012 season. The two regularly played basketball together this offseason. Gates was a star hoopster at Kent State before joining the Chargers as an undrafted free agent nine years ago.

“Just the moves that he made playing basketball were things I didn’t see him be able to do because of the injuries,’ Weddle said. “He is now moving that way on the football field. He’s going to be great.”