OC Frank Reich says Antonio Gates' suspension will make team better

SAN DIEGO – Offensive coordinator Frank Reich sees opportunity in the absence of San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, who will be suspended the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

In a conversation with Dan Sileo of The Mighty 1090 AM radio, Reich said the time missed by Gates will provide a chance for players such as tight end Ladarius Green, first round pick Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead to take on larger roles in the offense.

You can listen to the full conversation here.

“You know it’s a big loss,” Reich said. “You can’t replace a guy like Antonio. And so from that perspective, there are things that he does and plans that we have when he’s in the game that are unique to him. … But this is going to make us better, because it’s going to force other guys to step in and force us to run the football. We’re already planning that anyway, but it’s going to force that hand even more.”

As Reich alluded, a point of emphasis for the Chargers this offseason was fixing an anemic running game that averaged just 3.4 yards per carry in 2014, second-worst in the NFL. Even though the Chargers suffered a rash of injuries on offense, including using five starting centers, Reich isn’t using that as an excuse for his offense’s poor performance running the football in 2014.

“I know we had a lot of injuries last year, but as a coach that only goes so far,” Reich said. “I take responsibility as the coordinator to try and put our guys in better position. So I studied that harder this offseason than I ever had in my life.”

Reich said his team’s No. 1 goal heading into training camp is to consistently run the football. Along with the addition of Gordon, the Chargers signed Orlando Franklin, Joe Barksdale, Chris Hairston and Michael Huey in free agency in order to beef up the offensive line.

“You really want to in this business impose your will on your opponent,” he said. “What that means is not running it 50 times a game. What it means is running it when you want to run it.

“We have Philip Rivers and outstanding receivers, so we’re going to throw the football. But we’ve got to run the football better. Obviously with Melvin and his talent we expect to do that. But it’s not going to happen just because we drafted him in the first round.

“We committed to it in the offseason. We worked very hard at it as a coaching staff. We’ve turned over every stone and looked at everything that we’ve done. We’ve been very critical of ourselves as a staff. How can we put our guys in a better position – get better angles and better leverage?”

Also helping San Diego’s run game is the return of Woodhead, who missed most of last season with a broken ankle.

“What makes him unique is how smart of a player he is,” Reich said about Woodhead. “He just knows how to win vs. one-on-one. He knows how to win vs. zone. He understands defenses, what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to stop him. I’d like to think that we have some unique packages to emphasize what he can do. And not just Danny, but how he and Melvin can complement each other.”