Clyde Gates got better this offseason by matching his skills against shadows and thin air.
There is still a learning curve for Gates, who originally went to college to play basketball but eventually ended up at Abilene Christian where he transitioned to football, a sport he had never played before. He is admittedly raw, but Gates, cut by the Dolphins last offseason, is looking like a far more polished player this year. He was the talk of training camp at the wide receiver position and in the preseason opener at the Lions had three catches for 39 yards.
Gates has drawn praise for his improved route running, a glaring weakness that drew criticism from the media last year. In fact, a poor route he ran last year in Week 3 at the Dolphins led to an interception.
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“Mainly that’s what I did, I conditioned and ran routes. I took the coaching from [wide receiver coach] Sanjay Lal from his coaching points and try to put it into my game in the offseason. Anything he said I need to work on I just tried to master it. My route running was and still is kind of my knock. But I don’t feel that way. Coaches tell me, ‘Do this better, do that better,’ and I feel that I don’t want to have them tell me that more than once because I’m a grown man and I need to take care of that. [I am] just trying to master every route on the route tree,” Gates told Metro. “I wasn’t going up against anybody, I was going against the air. I didn’t have the defense to go against as I was working out with my friends and trainers. What would I do if he was there? What would I do against this coverage? That’s what I worked on.”
During the offseason, Gates worked out at D1 Sports in Abilene, Texas with David Hess, his old strength and conditioning coach in college. Four times a week as part of his three-hour workouts at the facility, Gates would work specifically on his routes.
He spent afternoons and evenings in front of his laptop on — of all things — YouTube in an effort to get better.
“[I] YouTubed a lot of Chad Ochocinco, a lot of Jerry Rice, a lot of Terrell Owens. My main player was Chad Ochocinco. I like the way he runs his routes,” Gates said. “I’m also a visual learner and I can see it and go out there and do it. I’d picture a look from a defensive back and go out there and try to do it — just like I saw on the video.”
The end result is a player who looks likely to play a more significant part in the offense this year. Last year, he was a training camp cut by the Dolphins who was picked up by then Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano as a stop-gap for an injury-depleted wide receiving corps.
He’s not a quick fix anymore, drawing praise from head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Mark Sanchez in recent weeks.
“Last year I had a late start, [and] was playing catch-up. I did have a training camp, [but] it wasn’t here. I was familiar with the offense but all year I was playing catch-up. This year with offseason and training camp, I felt like I was where I needed to be. Trying to stay healthy and stay on top of my health and do what I can do — be on top of things and not be too comfortable. When you get too comfortable, that’s when you stop moving forward,” Gates said.
“I’m just the type of guy that wants to come out every day and prove to myself that I can do this, that I can do that and build my confidence up.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.