COSTA MESA, CA-The Los Angeles Chargers signed tight end Virgil Green to a multi-year deal during the offseason. It’s a good thing that they did with starter Hunter Henry going down with a season-ending injury at the start of organized football activities. The unexpected turn of events put Green at the front of the line for starting tight end duties during training camp and going into the preseason.
As unfortunate as Henry’s injury is to the team, the show must go on, an empathetic Green said.
“It’s always the next man up mentality,” said Green. “We’ve all talked about that. Being in the NFL for a while, I’ve seen things happen like that happen every year. Somebody gets hurt and the next man has to step up. You can’t put that much pressure on yourself. You just gotta to go play your game and execute. If you can’t execute, you won’t be here.”
So now with future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates standing by in the abyss after being released from the team this spring, Green, who spent the first seven years of his NFL career with the Denver Broncos, could be that guy that fills the security blanket void for quarterback Philip Rivers. Just don’t expect Green to be Gates.
“I just play the game the way I play it,” Green said. “Obviously, with what they’ve (Chargers) had here at tight end with Antonio Gates, he’s a Hall of Fame guy. I’m not trying to be him. I play the game different. I’m just trying to be Virgil Green and try to help this team win games.”
For the Chargers, this could be a wait-and-see proposition because Green is a throwback to the rough and rugged era of the tight end position. His pass-reception numbers reflect this. In 16 games last season, Green caught just 14 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. Now in his eighth season playing in the league, Green snagged a grand total of 71 passes for 807 yards and four touchdowns during his stint with the Broncos.
These are not the type of numbers that will scare anybody. Last season, Gates caught 30 passes for 316 yards and three TDs. Career-wise, Gates has caught 927 balls for 11,508 yards and accumulated 114 touchdowns. The stats Gates put up dwarfs anything that Green has done thus far. But don’t let these numbers fool you into believing Green can’t do the job.
Eventually, the Gates era, be it this season or the next, is going to go bye-bye for good. That means his replacment(s) will have to formulate their own niche with the Chargers. Green is looking for that opportunity. He is big (6-foot-5, 255 pounds), fast (4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash), and athletic enough to handle his business on the field.
“This team, we work hard,” said Green. “Everybody’s trying to get better. For myself, I’m just trying to earn the respect of my teammates. I’ve been in the league for a while, but I just can’t come here thinking…I’ve got to earn the respect of my teammates. I feel like I’m doing that.”
Green will be part of the league’s No. 1-rated pass offense and the fourth-ranked offensive unit in the NFL last season. In 2017, the Broncos produced the 17th-best offensive unit and ranked No. 20 in passing. When it comes to the passing game, there’s no doubt that Green made a much more prolific upgrade.
Where the Chargers may stand to benefit more from Green’s services is on the offensive line. That’s because Green doesn’t just mind mixing it up in the box against defenders; he enjoys it.
“I’ve made a living in the trenches,” Green said. “The way I’ve made a living in the NFL hasn’t been pretty, but I just do what I needed to do earn the respect of my teammates and help my team win games.”
With the Chargers operating a high-octane passing game, that might require Green to do a little bit more pass-catching than he has done in the past. Considering he had the luxury of lining up in an offense with Peyton Manning at the helm, Green should fit in nicely with the way Rivers and Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt make use of him.
Green sees this layered gateway as another chapter in his development, both as a tight end and as an NFL player.
“My growth process was a little slow, coming in during the lockout, not having OTAs, not having a minicamp, not having a rookie camp,” Green said. “It took a while for me to learn. Being with a quarterback like Peyton Manning, coming here with Philip Rivers, you see the little details that you gotta be key on. I’m not perfect with everything, but I strive to be. That’s where my growth has come. I strive to be each year…strive for perfection a little bit more. You’re never going to reach it, but as long as you’re striving for it, good things will happen.”