As the Bengals get set to open training camp, the man who's been their primary returner for the past four season is poised to retain that job once again.
Wide receiver Brandon Tate has handled the majority of kickoff and punt-return duties since joining Cincinnati in 2011. Adam Jones has gotten the occasional run with his role expanding more this past year, but Tate has 127 kick-off returns since 2011 vs. Jones' total of 30 over that span.
Though Tate caught just 19 passes for 193 yards this year, he did so making just $1 million this past season and is set to make just $825,000 in 2015. For a guy who averaged 9.7 yards per punt return, it's not too bad. That was the 14th-highest average of any punt returner with 10+ returns. However, his 22.1 yards per kickoff return was just the 40th-best average of any player who had 10+ kick-off returns.
And when the Bengals were depleted at receiver late last season and needed something, anything from Tate, he did nothing. He often looked like someone incapable of playing the position while catching just three balls during the last nine games, including the wild-card playoff loss to the Colts.
Still, as long as Tate has the support of special-teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, he'll likely retain his role with the Bengals, via Local 12:
Obviously we have a level of comfort with Brandon and the reason we brought him here was to return the ball however many years that's been now. Everybody wants to be down on him all the time, but it always beats the alternative. Like I said, he's somebody I've got a great deal of confidence in. I think our team does; I think our head coach does; our front office does; (they all) have a great deal of confidence in him making those decisions and catching that ball.
I think where Brandon has to make an impact is, more of an impact, is at receiver. I know what he can do in the return game. I think we're waiting for him to make an explosion or we're looking for him as somebody to be counted on as an offensive player, too. There's two sides to that coin. You've got to be valuable in that regard, too.
If Cincinnati can actually find another receiver who's actually capable of being a better pass-catcher behind Mohamed Sanu, A.J. Green and Marvin Jones while also offering something as a returner, that's when Tate will become expendable. Until they do find a better and more stable option, or until they're willing to make Adam Jones the full-time returner and play him less on defense, Tate will remain here as the primary returner.