SAN DIEGO-The transition was going to come sooner or later for the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers decided that time was now. Tight end Antonio Gates is entering the twilight part of his Hall of Fame career. Gates still has some gas left in his tank as the Chargers embark on their 2016 journey to claim the AFC West title.
It’s still early into training camp, but the Chargers, with all of the transactions they’ve made in the offseason, have the physical makeup of a team with the possibility of a strong postseason run. The one position that could have a major say in that is the position Gates have manned for the past 13 seasons.
Philip Rivers’ glove now has company. That’s a good thing for both Gates and the Chargers. Only time will tell if Hunter Henry can eventually step in and become “that guy” for the Chargers as Gates have been.
But by drafting the John Mackey Award winner, handed out annually to the nation’s best collegiate tight end, the Chargers are riding high on the expectations that the former Arkansas All-American have what it takes to be a team mainstay for the future.
“For us, he’s a first-round talent,” Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said in a press conference after the team had selected Hunter in the 2016 NFL’s Draft second round. “He comes from a pro-style offense at Arkansas so he played on the line of scrimmage, he’s asked to block and he does it pretty well. He’s very athletic with his feet and he’s competitive and tough. He’ll continue to grow and get stronger. His game is the passing game and getting down field. He runs well. Just excellent body control and eye-hand coordination. Great hands, knock on wood, he didn’t drop a ball his senior year and they used him a lot. There were a lot of targets sent his way. He was their go-to guy on third down.
“Teams in the SEC knew he was a go-to guy and he still separated and got open. He plays a really well-rounded game, very polished tight end. Again, that is hard to find at the college level since there aren’t that many tight ends. He’s very polished, especially for a younger player. He’s a true junior. He has a chance to come in here and learn from one of the best. We’ll see how far it can take him.”
It’s taken Henry into training camp where getting up to speed on the playbook and making the transition from college to the pros has been quite an adjustment.
“You really have to be locked in mentally all the time,” Henry said after the team’s second day of training camp. “It’s a long day, a lot of meetings, a lot of things run at you in a short amount of time that you have to pick and put on the field immediately, especially with games coming up in about a week and a half to two weeks. So really have to pick things up quick so that you can go out and perform at your best.”
It may not be Hunter Henry time right now in San Diego. This is still Gates’ domain. However, the expectations riding on the novice’s shoulders are pretty big. Well, they are more gigantic when you consider whose shoes Henry has to fill. Right now, though, as a rookie, Henry is just trying to get in sync with what the team is trying to do offensively.
“It’s definitely a lot more complex, a lot more thrown at you, especially at our position,” Henry said. “They want you to do so many different things. It can be complicated when you’re playing almost three different positions. You’re playing the receiver position, sometimes fullback and tight end. All the guys here are a lot quicker. They can get off the ball a lot faster and get up on you, so you have be really technical sound.”
The best part of Henry’s introduction to the NFL is working alongside Gates.
“I’m just excited to work with him,” Henry said. “He’s been great. He’s an awesome guy, and he’s an awesome player. Obviously, he’s proved it. Just trying to watch him every single day to see how he’s done it for this long. Just excited to play with him.”