I liked Quan Cosby but I didn't like him enough, or he didn't matter to me enough, for me to be upset when the Bengals decided to replace him with former New England Patriot Brandon Tate as the team's punt and kick returner. Tate, it seemed, had the added benefit of being a deep threat in the passing game if he was needed and has big-play potential.
However, after five games of covering my eyes every time the opposing punter looks like he's going to drop one within the Bengals' five-yard line, I don't know how to feel about him anymore. Sunday's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars was a good example of what I'm talking about.
First the good.
Tate's two longest punt returns of the season came against the Jaguars -- one for 22 yards and one for 19. Those two returns set up two scoring drives for the Bengals. One resulted in a touchdown and another in a field goal. That's 10 points. The Bengals beat the Jaguars by 10 points.
Now the bad.
Tate also caught a punt on Cincinnati's five-yard line that he should have let bounce into the end zone and then he let one bounce that he should have caught. That one rolled out of bounds on the two-yard line. Watching that is frustrating because only about five things can happen in the shadow of your own goal post and four of them are bad.
Tate is averaging 9.8 yards per punt return. Cosby only averaged 9.9. Tate's 20-yard return against the Jaguars beat Cosby's long return of the 2010 season by two yards.
I don't know whether to praise him or scream at my TV every time I see him walk on the field. It isn't like he's turned the ball over or anything (knock on wood), but I know that if he's going to catch a punt on the five-yard line and he does drop it, the results could be devastating.
Head coach Marvin Lewis sees this too and he believes that they're just going to have to continue coaching Tate until he gets it right every time.
"He’s the epitome of this," Lewis said. "He may misjudge the flight of the one ball and catches it inside the six- or seven-yard line, the next play he returns it for (22 yards). We’re just going to keep coaching hard and keep working with them until we can make all the mental plays as well."
Is it safe to roll the dice every time the other team is getting ready to punt the ball? Unfortunately, the Bengals don't really have many choices when it comes to punt returner, especially now that Jordan Shipley is out for the year with a blown knee. On the depth chart the Bengals have Nate Clements behind Tate and Andrew Hawkins behind Clements.
I'm not saying that I want Tate replaced, I just think that the coaching staff is playing with fire when it comes to Tate catching the punts he shouldn't and letting the punts go that he should catch. I don't want to see them get burnt and loose a game because of a bad decision.
I suppose I'll just have to look at the positive side with Tate for now. However, the ice he's walking on isn't incredibly thick and it will only take one or two mistakes -- a muffed punt on the two-yard line or a fumble when he's hit trying to return a kick that would have gone into the stands -- for that ice to break.
Here's hoping that mistake never comes.