At the practices that members of the media were permitted to attend during the Bengals OTAs and minicamp, Brandon Tate typically lined up with the first unit on offensive as the wide receiver opposite of A.J. Green.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden says that we shouldn’t read into that too much.
“Maybe the other guy was tying his shoes,” said Gruden. “I don’t really look at who is first team and who is not. I just expect them to be in the right place and make plays when the ball is out there.”
But make no mistake: Tate would not have been running with the “ones” if he wasn’t a legitimate candidate to win a starting role this season.
“He’s been one of the best surprises of camp for me,” said Gruden. “Last year he came in late (after being acquired on waivers from New England) and was mainly a return guy and our fifth receiver and never really got in the flow with the group at wide receiver. Now I think he’s more confident, he sees that he belongs as an NFL wide receiver, and I think the confidence level that he has is showing. He’s got all the ability. He runs all of the routes great, he’s got great feel, and he’s done an outstanding job.”
The Bengals picked up Tate a week before the season opener last year and he set team records for combined kickoff and punt returns with 93, as well as punt return yards with 543. But the 24-year-old did not have a single reception as he rarely lined up at receiver.
“I got here after they already had things established so I wasn’t trippin’ – I just did whatever the coaches wanted me to do,” said Tate. “Now I’m just excited about the opportunity to go out there and compete. I’m just focusing on what I can do to help the team win and help myself get better.”
After tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee as a senior at North Carolina, Tate was selected by the Patriots in the third round of the 2009 draft. After missing most of his rookie season due to the knee injury, Tate had 24 catches for 432 yards (18.0 ypc) and 3 TD in his one healthy season in New England, and soaked up advice from a veteran group of receivers.
“Randy Moss, Torry Holt, Joey Galloway, Wes Welker – I tried to listen to what they told me and then tried to do it myself,” said Tate.
Now Brandon is trying to show that he’s more than a return man for the Bengals. In an effort to improve his chances of being one of Andy Dalton’s primary targets, Tate stayed in Cincinnati in the offseason and trained under Clif Marshall at Ignition Athletics Performance Group in Mason.
“I trained really, really hard because I’m excited about the opportunity to come here and play,” said Tate. “Every day I try to go out there and leave it all on film. That’s what the coaches are going to look at, so every day I try to go out there and do the right thing.”
Tate and Armon Binns appear to be the early leaders in the battle to start opposite A.J. Green.
“Both of those guys I would anticipate to have significant playing time and production,” said Gruden. “Whoever starts – great – when you get the starting role you get to have your name announced on TV, but the other guy is going to play a lot too.”
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