San Diego Chargers: Will Antonio Gates' Plantar Fascia Ever Heal?

Peter KleissAnalyst IIAugust 17, 2011

Antonio Gates
Antonio GatesJeff Gross/Getty Images

Antonio Gates is the best tight end in the NFL. Whether you believe that or not, there is no denying that Gates is a major force for the San Diego Chargers.

Listed as 6'4" and 260 pounds, Gates has left other tight ends in his wake as this future Hall of Famer plots a course for Canton. He has been selected to the Pro-Bowl every year except his rookie season—that’s seven straight years. He is a five-time All-Pro selection and shares the NFL single season record for touchdowns by a tight end with Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers at 13.

Gates is a marquee player and a fantasy football favorite, but as he approaches his ninth season, he is developing a nasty habit of being oft injured.

In February of 2008, Gates underwent surgery for turf-toe, an injury he picked up in the playoffs earlier that year. Recovery was slow and hampered Gates throughout the 2008 season.

Still, the 31-year-old played in all 16 games and collected 60 receptions for 704 yards and eight touchdowns. In fact, not until the 2010 season did Gates ever miss a game. He may have been hobbled, hampered and hemmed, but the hoo-ha wasn’t enough to keep Gates out of the lineup. He played and played well.

However, last year saw him miss six games and be taken out prematurely in two others. Even so, he still managed 40 catches for 663 yards and an outstanding nine touchdowns. Recurring turf-toe, a twisted ankle and a tear in the plantar fascia of his right foot finally kept Gates out of the game and on the sidelines.

Now the 2011 campaign is about to begin and Gates is still not fully recovered. The tear is mostly healed, but recurring plantar fasciitis has remained. An injury that typically takes two to three months to heal has persisted for nine.

We all know that Gates is the consummate professional and that he will suit up and play even if he is hurting. We also know that 70 percent of Antonio Gates is better than 100 percent of just about any other tight end in the league.

The real question in everyone’s mind is how much longer will this injury plague the Chargers’ super-star tight end, or is this the beginning of the end?

At 31, most tight ends are wrapping up their careers. Gates could be reaching that point as well. After all, the punishment required to play tight end wreaks havok on the human body.

Has Antonio Gates' career peaked? Is it only downhill from here?

The Chargers are limiting Gates’ practice sessions to a minimum in the preseason—and for good reason. There is no sense in re-aggravating the foot in meaningless games.

Come opening day against the Minnesota Vikings, Gates will be ready and willing. But will his foot be able to stand the rigors of another season or will he have to hobble off to the sidelines once again?

I think it’s too much to ask to expect that Gates will be 100 percent by opening day. How can a nagging injury that has lasted over nine months be rectified in only five weeks of camp? We can only hope that as the season progresses, Gates' recovery improves and he reaches the point that the injury no longer bothers him.

If not, then it may fall to Randy McMichael or Kory Sperry to fill the void at tight end.

The Chargers have many questions surrounding their chances of reaching the playoffs this year, let alone the Super Bowl. Lets just hope that the health of Antonio Gates isn't one of them.