Chargers TE Antonio Gates says he's feeling healthy, strong

San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates told U-T San Diego on Monday that he's feeling healthy and ready to show he can continue to run with the league's best.

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"I think that's what makes me excited, coming to prove I'm still one of the elite guys at this position," the 31-year-old tight end said. "That's the challenge for myself ..."

Gates was hampered by plantar fasciitis in 2011, which forced him to miss three games. Even so, Gates made his eighth straight Pro Bowl after the 2011 season.

But that season also marked the rise of a new generation of stars at his position, including New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Gates had just the 10th-most receiving yards (778) among NFL tight ends and the fourth-most touchdowns (seven).

The former college hoops player told the newspaper that he's been playing basketball to stay in shape, in addition to taking part in the team's offseason workout program.

"As you understand this league and you have experience, you understand how important the offseason is, and it definitely pays off dividends throughout the year," Gates said. "The fact that I am participating in the offseason program, coming here and working my tail off with the rest of the guys, that'll pay off throughout the season."

Gates has been one of the top tight ends in the league since joining the Chargers as an undrafted rookie in 2003. He has 7,783 career receiving yards and 76 touchdowns.