SEATTLE - OCTOBER 30: Brandon Tate #19 of the Cincinnati Bengals returns a punt for a touchdown against David Vobora #54 of the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on October 30, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Bengals defeated the Seahawks 34-12.(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
It's taken time for wide receiver and return specialist Brandon Tate to endear himself among the masses. And it might not be entirely his fault. People liked Quan Cosby, the player he replaced, a former punt return specialist, an all-around nice guy who broke the single-season record for most punt return yards (474) in 2009. In just two short seasons, Cosby ranked No. 4 all-time in punt return yards (699) and No. 3 all-time with 70 punt returns. After New England placed Brandon Tate, a 2009 third-round draft pick, on waivers, the Bengals claimed him the next day (September 4, 2011), ending Cosby's Bengals career.
So. What does Tate do?
He shatters Cosby's single-season punt return yard mark with 543 punt return yards (second in the NFL) on 51 punts and finishing second in the NFL with 1,571 return yards on special teams (kickoff and punt returns specifically) -- seven yards shy of Leon Washington.
Despite the fact that Tate's punt return average last season was over a yard less than Cosby's career year in 2009, Cosby virtually hit a concrete wall with a 7.5 yard/return average in 2010 that enabled Cincinnati to keep their options open. The promise of having one player serve two roles as a punt and kickoff returner, seemed enticing enough to go with Tate over Cosby.
Still there were frustrations with Tate; dancing after hauling in the punt, delayed response to developing lanes, indecision, it was all there. Then there were moments that Tate proved his worth, notably against the Seattle Seahawks, returning one punt 56 yards for a touchdown. Our account from that day:
Jon Ryan punted the football 49 yards to the Bengals 44-yard line where Brandon Tate hauled in the punt. Avoiding hitters, tacklers and bad guys with villainous grins, Tate returns the football 56 yards into the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Bengals a 27-12 lead. It's the first punt return for a touchdown since Peter Warrick's return against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2003. We're not exactly sure, but this has to be the first game in which two punt returners posted 50-plus yard returns in the same game by the same team. We're sure we'll hear about it soon enough.
Eventually Tate would compile four games with over 50 punt return yards, including a 71-yard effort against the St. Louis Rams -- on just two punt returns.
Anyone expecting a change on special teams may be disappointed. But then we're not factoring that Tate will be granted an opportunity to become an effective member in Cincinnati's offense, not just special teams. And Tate is making sure he gets that opportunity, per Bengals.com.
"I got going the week before the Super Bowl," Tate said as he got ready for Monday's workout at PBS. "I've been working on my footwork and I want to be in good enough shape to go six quarters. I'm excited. I'd have to say it's the best shape I've been (in the NFL). I'm healthy and I feel comfortable in the city and with my teammates."
James Urban, the Bengals wide receivers coach, is looking forward to what Tate can do on offense.
"His primary responsibilities were special teams; the return game and he did a great job there," Urban said. "Now we'll get a chance this spring to see him as a receiver and he'll get plenty of chances with Andy (Dalton)."
The question of a No. 2 receiver has long been unanswered since Jerome Simpson's somewhat disappointing season last year, which led to a "meh" farewell after his departure to the Minnesota Vikings.
With Tate's name being added for consideration, it increases the overall competition to levels I can't remember seeing in Cincinnati. Other players possibly competing for the spot include Armon Binns and rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.