COSTA MESA, Calif. — Antonio Gates looked like his old self, running routes and catching passes from longtime teammate Philip Rivers during the early portion of practice for the Los Angeles Chargers on Wednesday.
The 38-year-old tight end signed a one-year deal in free agency as added depth for the Bolts, with tight end Hunter Henry beginning the regular season on the physically unable to perform list as he rehabs from ACL knee surgery.
Although he missed all of the team’s offseason work and training camp and has just three days to prepare for Sunday’s season opener at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, Gates has not ruled out playing Sunday.
“I’ve always been optimistic about playing in a game, whether I was injured or not here — it didn’t matter,” Gates said. “So, I think I’m well aware of the preparation that needs to be put in throughout the week to go play a game at the highest level possible. With that being said … it just depends on how I feel leading up to Sunday.”
Gates was not listed on the team’s Wednesday injury report, which did include defensive end Joey Bosa as a limited participant due to a sore left foot and rookie defensive tackle Justin Jones as a full participant with an ankle issue.
However, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said he would take a conservative approach in getting Gates back on the field.
“I’m going to watch him closely this week,” Lynn said. “I want to know where he is conditioning-wise. We know that he can help us. That’s why we brought him back. I don’t know how much yet, but we’ll see.”
Rivers and Gates shared a smile as the veteran signal-caller left the podium after talking to reporters on Wednesday.
“Here’s the guy y’all been waiting for,” Rivers joked.
Although he’s entering his 16th NFL season, Gates showed some quickness getting in and out of breaks while catching passes from Rivers during practice.
“It’s like he’s never left,” Rivers said. “It’s like he’s been here all season and all training camp. It will be good to have him out there today in practice and good to have him back in the building.”
Second-year receiver Mike Williams also will be counted on to run some of the routes that Henry would have run. However, Gates could carve out a role as a red zone and third-down threat if he shows that he’s healthy.
Gates became a free agent in March, and the team notified his representation that the Chargers would not seek to re-sign him.
However, the Chargers lost Henry for the year when he suffered a right ACL knee injury on the first day of organized team activities in May. Gates and his agents had been in talks with the Chargers since then, and they finally reached an agreement on a deal this week.
“We disagreed on certain things, and I think what we agreed on is that we had an opportunity this year to be a part of this family,” Gates said. “This will always be family to me. So, it’s like forgiving a family member and then moving forward.
“Our goal is to go out and try to win a Super Bowl, and that’s what I wanted to be a part of. So that’s what we agreed on and I came to the same conclusion, and so here I am today.”