Arrow pointing up for Chargers TE Hunter Henry

The future looks bright for Hunter Henry, who scored eight touchdowns as a rookie. Orlando Ramirez/USA Today Sports

SAN DIEGO -- One of the most polished route runners to join the league as a rookie, Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry proved a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses in his first NFL season.

In 2016, the Arkansas product finished with 36 receptions on 54 targets for 478 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, seven of which came inside the red zone.

With another offseason of work with quarterback Philip Rivers, Henry should be even better in Year 2 while shouldering more of the workload.

“It’s a grind of a year, and you just have to be ready for it,” Henry told The Mighty 1090 AM radio, when asked what stood out about his rookie season. “It nice to be able to know (what’s coming), because as a rookie there are a lot of unknowns and you just have to be able to handle each week.”

Future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates will still get his touches. Gates turns 37 next month and needs one more touchdown to eclipse Tony Gonzalez for the all-time TD record of 111 for tight ends.

Gates actually played more offensive snaps than Henry last season (554 for Gates, 546 for Henry). But expect that to change in 2017 as Henry moves into the role as the Chargers’ main tight end, with Gates being saved for third downs and in the red zone.

Gates struggled with drops last season, finishing with six. However, Gates remains Rivers’ security blanket and still is going to get his numbers. As I wrote two years ago, Gates and Rivers have incredible chemistry. And even though Gates missed two games last year due to injury, he still finished with 53 receptions for 548 yards and seven touchdowns.

One thing to watch for with Henry is, with so many pass-catchers at Rivers' disposal, it may be hard for the second-year pro to get consistent touches. However, Henry sees that as a positive for the Chargers' offense.

“It’s going to be nice for all of us,” Henry said. “Because when there’s that many weapons on the field it’s hard for a defense to key on one guy.”