Chargers GM Telesco eager for season, mum on Gates return
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — If Antonio Gates is on his way back to the Los Angeles Chargers, general manager Tom Telesco isn’t talking about it.
Telesco has a whole lot more to say about the players already settled in Orange County as the Chargers attempt to build on their encouraging relocation season with the start of training camp Saturday.
Telesco repeatedly declined to confirm almost anything Thursday about a potential reunion with the 38-year-old Gates, the star tight end and top receiver in franchise history. The Chargers bade a public farewell to Gates in April, but those plans appear to be changing after tight end Hunter Henry’s subsequent season-ending knee injury during offseason workouts in May.
Gates’ agent, Tom Condon, told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday that he is “actively negotiating” with the Chargers for Gates’ return for a 16th season with his only NFL franchise.
“I’ve got nothing new for you,” Telesco said. “But if we ever do anything, I’ll let you know.”
Telesco praised the tight ends already on his roster, including new signee Vernon Green and young backups Braedon Bowman and Sean Culkin. The GM also acknowledged he is confident in Gates’ ability to keep playing if he chooses.
Gates caught only 30 passes for 316 yards last season in his lowest totals since his rookie season, but much of that decline was attributable to the stellar play of Henry, who became a key target for Philip Rivers in the Bolts’ high-powered offense.
Aside from Gates’ future, Telesco and the Chargers are heading into training camp with far fewer variables and obstacles than they had last season. The franchise combined its complicated relocation from San Diego with the arrival of a new coaching staff led by Anthony Lynn, leading to a training camp and a September that was particularly draining to the players, coaches and front office.
“Going into training camp right now, it feels completely different than last year,” Telesco said. “It wasn’t something I really realized, I think, until the last couple of weeks. Last year as we were relocating ... there was so much work that people were doing at this time last year that we’re not doing right now. At the time, we say, ‘Hey, this is business as usual. There aren’t that many distractions.’ But as I was coming into work this week and thinking about all the stuff we were doing at this time last year, yeah, it’s a little more stability right now.”
Indeed, the Chargers appear to be in their most stable position in several years. The front office and top coaches are all returning, and their roster underwent remarkably little turnover in the offseason after the Bolts just missed the playoffs at 9-7.
The contrast is stark with last July, when everyone associated with the Chargers was still moving 90 miles north to their new homes and settling in the area while trying to put together a football team. The Chargers started 0-4 before their 9-3 finish.
“Even though you have that football mentality that nothing is going to affect us — (and) it really didn’t feel like it did — but when you look back, yeah, it was unique, to say the least,” Telesco said. “And that’s all done now. This is home.”
Telesco expects a strong start to camp with coordinators Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley both returning for Lynn.
The Chargers replaced starting safety Tre Boston with promising first-round pick Derwin James, but the rest of the defense returns with remarkable continuity — and promising cornerback Jason Verrett is back at full strength after losing most of the past two seasons to injury. The offense added veteran center Mike Pouncey, but Gates and Henry are the only significant losses from a unit that finished fourth in the league last season with 376.6 yards per game and led the league in yards passing.
Telesco is particularly interested in the progress of receiver Mike Williams. The seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft missed training camp with a back injury and played in only 10 games, catching 11 passes.
“We’re looking for him to step up and contribute this year,” Telesco said. “It’s why we took him. He had, relatively, a full offseason program this summer, which is really important for every young player, but especially a receiver. It’ll be a big training camp. It’s his first. He’s like a rookie.”