CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01: Brandon Tate #19 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball while tackled by Dennis Pitta #88 and Emmanel Cook #37 of the Baltimore Ravens during the NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Who will line up opposite A.J. Green as the Bengals' No. 2 receiver is arguably the most interesting development of the offseason. Prior to the draft, the mysterious Armon Binns was the much talked about missing piece. After the draft, talk changed slightly and focused more on rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. But until lately, not much was made about Brandon Tate.
Tate, 24, has spent three seasons in the NFL, yet has never been much more than a return specialist. He has only 24 career receptions. He has only 432 career yards. If he were the answer at receiver, then Cincinnati wouldn't have spent two draft picks on receivers, right? Well, Jay Gruden wouldn't accept that logic quite so readily, but according to Dan Hoard of Bengals.com, he's been just as surprised with Tate's mini-camp performance as anybody.
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."
As Gruden says, Tate did come into Cincinnati at a disadvantage last year. He was signed only a week before the season opener. Given a full pre-season with the offense, Tate may very well prove that he belongs as a receiver in the NFL. And he's worked hard to get to the point he's at now.
"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."
A No. 2 receiver's importance has been stressed ever since we realized Jerome Simpson was better at front flipping than catching footballs. Perhaps the answer is Armon Binns, perhaps the answer is in the draft class. But if Gruden's praise of Tate is grounded, then this is very encouraging for the future of the position.