ALAMEDA -- Mychal Rivera has never met Antonio Gates, but he has been paying close attention.

The Raiders rookie tight end, with his first career touchdown in hand, grew up in Southern California while Gates was establishing himself as one of the NFL's best tight ends with the San Diego Chargers.

"I've watched him a lot -- he and Tony Gonzalez," Rivera said. "They're real pros who do things the right way. They run routes really crisply, take pride in their blocking and make a big difference in games."

The Raiders will be focusing a lot more attention on Gates than the Chargers will on Rivera on Sunday night, but the sixth-round selection out of Tennessee might be the most productive pick in the Raiders' rookie class through four games.

Rivera has nine receptions for 123 yards and an 18-yard touchdown. The only Raiders rookie who has been on the field more is first-round pick D.J. Hayden, with 159 snaps.

Jeron Mastrud is the starting tight end, but Rivera has been in for more plays (149 to 135) and shown a knack for getting open and making plays since the early days of training camp.

The touchdown against Washington on Sunday became a national highlight because of histrionics in a Coliseum suite by his more famous sister. Naya Rivera, who plays Santana Lopez on the television series "Glee," was caught on camera celebrating wildly.


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"I was just going through progressions in my head, getting to my landmark, looking at the zone, looking at the coverage, letting the game slow down -- putting all my practice habits in the game," Rivera said. "That's one thing I always remind myself. The game is nothing but a fast-paced practice. It's just against somebody else."

Gates, 33, had 49 receptions for 538 yards last season, his lowest totals since his rookie season in 2003. Through four games in 2013, Gates has 25 catches for 364 yards and two touchdowns and is on pace for career highs in receptions (100) and receiving yards (1,456).

At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Gates, a former Kent State basketball player, still uses post-up moves to his advantage.

"As a defensive back, you're normally outmatched by his size, but you've got to be as physical as possible and hopefully see the ball thrown," Raiders safety Usama Young said. "If you've got your back to the ball, it's almost impossible to cover him."

Young believes Gates is merely free of injury issues that slowed him last season. Raiders linebacker Kevin Burnett, a former teammate of Gates' in San Diego, thinks his resurrection is a matter of scheme as designed by coach Mike McCoy.

"What they have done is take away a defense's ability to double-team guys, and so Gates is in play," Burnett said. "It's a chess match, and when they find the one-on-one matchup, they're going to go to the playmaker."

At 6-3, 245 pounds, Rivera is smaller than Gates but might eventually be an every-down tight end.

"That's to be determined," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "We'll continue to develop him every day to be a three-down player for us. We'll continue to work on his blocking, and it's a matter of time to see how they mature in terms of getting bigger and stronger.

"I've seen a lot of improvement in his in-line blocking. I think he's a really good player."

  • Running back Darren McFadden (hamstring) and center Stefen Wisniewski (knee) were listed as doubtful, making them unlikely to face the Chargers.

    McFadden called hamstring injuries "tricky" and said "I'd rather miss one or two games than pop it and miss four or five."

    If Wisniewski can't play, Andre Gurode, a former Pro Bowl center with Dallas, will move to center from left guard. Complicating matters is that three other linemen -- tackle Tony Pashos (groin), guard Lucas Nix (ankle) and tackle Menelik Watson (knee) -- are questionable.

    Also listed as questionable is fullback Marcel Reece, who is expected to get reps as a running back along with Rashad Jennings and Jeremy Stewart.

    For more on the Raiders, visit the Inside the Oakland Raiders blog at ibabuzz.com/oaklandraiders. Follow Jerry McDonald on Twitter at twitter.com/Jerrymcd.

    SUNDAY'S GAME

    San Diego (2-2) at Raiders (1-3), 8:35 p.m. NFL Network, KRON