LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chargers tight end Hunter Henry tore his knee ligament while running an ordinary route during a non-contact workout on the opening day of organized team activities, general manager Tom Telesco confirmed Wednesday.
Telesco declined to confirm whether the Chargers will go back to Antonio Gates to fill the suddenly gaping hole in their offense.
Henry is expected to miss the upcoming season while he recovers from his knee injury, which dealt an extraordinary blow to the Chargers’ plans more than three months before their opener.
The franchise’s second-round pick in 2016 was slated to fill a major role in the Chargers’ offense after catching 81 passes for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns over his first two seasons.
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“I’m not going to minimize it: He’s a Pro Bowl talent with Pro Bowl intangibles,” Telesco said. “As bad as we feel about losing him, and as bad as the fans feel about it, Hunter feels worse. This team means a lot to him. He means a lot to us. It’s going to be harder without him, but let me be clear: We will adapt and move on.”
Telesco indicated the Chargers haven’t decided how they’ll adapt just yet, and he is grateful they’ve got a few months to come up with a plan.
The GM was entirely noncommittal about the possibility on every Chargers fan’s mind: A reunion with Gates, the franchise’s career leader in receptions and yards receiving, and the NFL record-holder for TD catches by a tight end.
“Just looking at where we’re at right now, we’ve got to look at really all of our options and what are out there, and kind of take it from there,” Telesco said when pressed about the possibility of re-signing Gates.
The Chargers publicly bade farewell last month to Gates , who will turn 38 years old in June. Gates, whose 30 receptions last season were his fewest since his rookie season with the Bolts in 2003, already said he hopes to play in the NFL again this season.
Last month, Telesco cited a desire to increase Henry’s role in one of the NFL’s best offenses as a prime reason to part ways with Gates after 15 seasons. Before he missed the final two games of last season with a kidney laceration, Henry emerged as a top target for Philip Rivers, combining his size and athleticism with improved route-running.
“He’s taking it tough, as you’d expect,” Telesco said. “He loves this team, and we love him, too, and he wants to be a part of it this year. … He feels like he let us down. I told him, ‘Look, you did not let this football team down. You went out there, and you’re practicing the way you always do, and these things happen.'”
These things seem to happen dismayingly often to the Chargers. Their recent history is littered with major injury problems for key players at nearly every position except quarterback, where Rivers has played every game since 2006.
The Bolts largely avoided debilitating injuries last year during their relocation season, and they barely missed the playoffs at 9-7 after winning nine of their final 12 games.
With Henry injured and Gates unsigned, the Chargers have exactly one tight end on their roster with an NFL catch: Virgil Green, an offseason free-agent signee from Denver, where he was used primarily as a blocker. Braedon Bowman and Sean Culkin also are back from last season’s team, but neither has significant NFL experience.
“We have some young players on the roster that we think have a chance to develop,” Telesco said. “As we saw today in practice, they got a lot of extra balls today. So we’ll see if some of those guys can ascend.”
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