San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates' route-running is one of the most exceptional in the National Football League (NFL). He attributes this skill to his background in basketball.
When it comes to route running, few tight ends and even wide receivers can compare to the San Diego Chargers' Antonio Gates.
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According to The San Diego Union-Tribune's Matt Calkins, Gates attributes his superior route-running skills to his basketball background:
"Actually, 'master' is just one of the descriptions thrown around when it comes (to) Gates' route running.
"(Chargers backup tight end Ladarius) Green calls him the 'technician.' Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, referring to Gates' basketball past, said 'he's brought the crossover to the football field.' And then there was Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who dubbed Antonio 'The Professor.'
"Simple reason why.
"'His route running is at a Ph.D level,' Reich said. 'He's just got these subtle moves and instincts that are better than everyone else.'
"You can't dispute that Gates' knack for creating separation is largely a result of natural talent. This is a guy who played basketball, not football in college, yet -- after signing with the Chargers as (an) undrafted free agent in 2003 -- established himself as one of the best tight ends in NFL history.
"But listen to Antonio and he'll tell you that his hoops career was crucial to his future route-running reign. When you spend your NCAA career surrounded by bigger guys, you're forced to care (about) the smallest of details.
"'When I was playing basketball, I was an average athlete. I was surrounded by guys who were 6-foot-9, so my approach was that I was always fundamentally sound. I had to do the little things,' said the 6-foot-4 Gates, adding that not playing college football worked to his advantage because he didn't have to unlearn any bad habits.
"'Here (in the NFL), I was considered one of the better athletes in the sport, but I took the same approach. I knew it was going to come down to something small. It's the smaller things that separate the starters from the backups, the stars from the starters. My goal wasn't to be the best tight end on the field -- it was always to be the best pass catcher.'
"And that's part of what makes Gates so unusual as a teacher. Normally, it's the wide receivers showing the tight ends the nuances of slants, curls and posts. Chargers receiver Eddie Royal voiced this very thought from the Bolts' locker room last week, but confessed that when watching Gates, he is all student, all the time.
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"'Half the time we're on the field, I'm watching him and writing things down. You just watch it and you're like, 'That's the way your run a route,' Royal said. 'It's always something subtle, but it's improved my game a ton.'
"In his 11-year NFL career, Gates has caught 719 passes and tallied 87 touchdown receptions -- both of which are Chargers records. His, 9,193 receiving yards are less than 400 shy of topping the Chargers' ledger, which would look nice alongside his eight Pro Bowl selections.
"But the 34-year-old's impact stretches beyond the numbers. It is evident in the younger receivers' progressions and approach to the game.
"No. 85 may not take the field tonight, but in some form or another, we'll see Antonio Gates out there."
On Sept. 8, Gets agreed to restructure his contract. This frees up $1.5 million in cap space for 2014, per Calkins' colleague at The San Diego Union-Tribune, Michael Gelken:
"Antonio Gates made news Saturday for a minor hamstring injury suffered in practice.
"A day before, he did something more significant.
"The Chargers tight end signed a restructured contract, freeing up $1.5 million in cap space this year, a team source confirmed Monday. The move was done to add flexibility for the reserve budget, needed for various moves over the course of a season.
"Gates was due a $5 million salary in 2014. Of that, $3 million was converted to a signing bonus, which prorates over two years.
"Expecting to have more cap space in 2015, the franchise was comfortable pushing $1.5 million into the future. Gates neither gained nor lost money on the deal."
Gates has caught for 9,274 yards and 87 touchdowns on 725 receptions in 164 career regular-season games, per ESPN stats.
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