SAN DIEGO (AP) — Star tight end Antonio Gates is eager to do a little less cheerleading and get back onto the field with the San Diego Chargers.
That is, if the plantar fasciitis in his right foot clears up to the point that he can practice, let alone get through a game without feeling the intolerable pain that’s dogged him since last season.
After missing the last three games with the stubborn condition, Gates hopes the rest and treatment he’ll get during the Chargers’ bye week will be enough to get back. Then again, he never expected to miss this much time, so he can’t be certain when he’ll be back.
“You can’t make predictions because you kind of stick your foot in your mouth when you make predictions with this thing,” said Gates, a three-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. “It’s just one of those things where I’ve got to first get through one day’s practice before I can start thinking about playing a football game. And then seeing what can I do, how can I do it, can I modify it, can I cut back on some pain by doing X, Y and Z, and then we go from there.”
The Chargers (4-1) are winning without Gates. But his absence gets magnified every time the Bolts bog down inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. It’s not the only reason the Chargers have had to summon kicker Nick Novak so many times, but it’s certainly a factor.
After being held without a catch in a loss at New England on Sept. 18, Gates was inactive for wins against Kansas City, Miami and Denver.
Next Wednesday is the next time Gates will have a chance to practice, when the Chargers begin preparing for their game at the New York Jets on Oct. 23.
Standing on the sideline is starting to eat at Gates, who missed six games in 2010, including the final four as the Chargers couldn’t recover from a slow start and missed the playoffs.
“I’m very antsy on that sideline. I can’t help but be. I’m used to being out there. At the same time, the objective is to win a football game. Everybody plays a role on this team.
Unfortunately, my role hasn’t been participating. My role has been cheering, patting on the back, slapping on the numbers — I don’t hit them on the butt,” Gates said with a laugh. “That’s what it’s about. Me, I’m just playing a role on the side, doing as much as I can do to help.”
Although Randy McMichael has played well at tight end, quarterback Philip Rivers said it’ll be “huge” to get Gates back, especially in the red zone.
“Certainly he’s a guy who’s caught a bunch of touchdowns down there,” Rivers said.
“I think you’re talking about one of the great red zone receivers over the last 10 years, for sure, so no question that will be a factor,” coach Norv Turner said.
No one can be certain when that’ll be.
Rivers and Gates are locker room neighbors, and the quarterback can sense how badly his teammate wants to play again.
“I think it’s definitely frustrating,” Rivers said. “It’s obviously super painful or he wouldn’t be missing. He’s played in pain before, so you know that is the case. I’m sure it’s definitely frustrating because he wants to be out there and going and helping us. Hopefully he’ll do it sooner than later.”
Gates talks about a “game plan” he’s following with the team’s medical staff.
“I think they’re working hard to make this a deal where he can come back and play an extended period of time,” Turner said.
Whether that starts with the Jets game remains to be seen.
“With where he’s been, I don’t know if we can say confidently until we get him through two or three practices next week and see how he is,” Turner said.
Gates compares the pain to a toothache.
“Everybody has had a toothache and everybody has taken something and it went away, like, ‘I’m OK, I don’t need to go get a root canal,’ and then it comes back and it’s, ‘Oh, Lord have mercy!’ ” Gates said. “Sometimes it’s more painful than it was before and sometimes it’s less painful. And there’s all these different remedies for a toothache: cold water, hot water, saltwater, this, that, Tylenol3, all these different remedies. The root of the problem is that you’ve got to get a root canal or a filling.”
Gates said it’s his understanding that the plantar fascia needs to completely tear for the condition to go away.
“With me, I’ve kind of broken into, torn some scar tissue,” Gates said. “You kind of take two steps backward to move forward, in my case, and now it’s time to rest it.”
The Chargers’ medical staff is not allowed to speak with the media.
“People’s experiences are different,” Gates said. “From what I hear, tearing scar tissue was the release, and it’d be better. Unfortunately, my style of play, the way I run, etc., being flat-footed, how hard I break and come out of my cuts, all that factors in. I’m 260 (pounds) and playing and cutting, so it had more of an effect on me than it would probably a guy who was playing on the line or something.”
As one of game’s best tight ends, who’s caught 69 touchdown passes since joining the Chargers as an undrafted rookie in 2003, Gates takes his job seriously — and wants to get back to it.
“Being able to be a starter in this league is a privilege. Being able to be a guy people count on, words can’t describe how fortunate you will be,” he said. “That’s the way I approach this thing. Not only do the coaches depend on me or trust me, my teammates trust me as well. So I want to be able to continue to have that trust.”