He is making the players on the first-team defense look like they are not even trying. His wide open receptions with a ton of yards after the catch are becoming too numerous to recall, not to mention a recent practice when he had two phenomenal one-handed grabs for TDs. Who's the receiver? TE Antonio Gates, the same player many said would never dominate again after he tore his plantar fascia in his right foot two seasons ago.
Watching Gates return to health has been a slow and painful process. Repeatedly and almost apologetically, reporters would ask him how his foot was feeling. It was a question that had to be asked. It was football news, and Fantasy football players demand the latest injury updates.
This year, the question may be unecessary. Gates is healthy, and he looks like he may return to Pro Bowl form.
“Going into practice over the last couple of years, I just focused on trying to get through the practice because I had to deal with the soreness,” Gates said. “Now I am back to enjoying what I do and learning more about the game. I am just enjoying the game and embracing my health.”
Gates lost five pounds this offseason which he says has made a big difference. “Five pounds is a lot of weight,” Gates said. “I use to carry 260 well. So when I lost five it feels like I can run. Even when I am not running it looks like I am running. I just felt like it was imperative that I do that for my foot and for longevity purposes.”
There were signs in the second half of last season that Gates had begun to turn the corner with his foot issues. He had 704 receiving yards with seven TDs from Week 7 on. “I think my health was coming along last year,” he said. “It was obvious at times based on how I was running. When I look back and critique last year, I realize that I got in shape midway into the season and it helped my performance.”
Gates, 32, is looking to improve on those numbers this season and said he is being pushed by a TE corps that is the deepest in his career. “It's phenomenal,” he said. “Since I have been here I haven't had six guys in one room who could go play on any NFL team. I think what it does is it keeps you humble. Whether or not you are a starter or the last guy on the depth chart, we are all holding everyone accountable."