Brandon Tate and Vincent Rey’s paths to the NFL started at rival schools under different circumstances. Tate is a former North Carolina Tar Heel while Rey played for the rival Duke Blue Devils. Tate was considered to be one of the more talented receivers available in the 2009 NFL Draft, but slipped into the third round due to a torn ACL and MCL in his senior season. Rey flew completely under the radar in the 2010 Draft and ended up signing with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent. Tate also came to the Bengals as a free agent, but only after he spent his first two years with the New England Patriots.
After making their way to the Bengals via very different paths, their attitudes toward their roster status in 2016 couldn’t be more similar. Both received contract extensions this offseason and seem to prefer to go unnoticed for the most part and let their play do the talking.
"I’m more of an under-the-radar guy," Tate told the North Carolina Sun Journal at his free football clinic for North Carolina youths this past weekend. "Being consistent is the most important part. Just being a good teammate and a good locker-room guy."
It’s a sentiment that Rey, who attended Tate's camp in North Carolina, seems to agree with. Consistency and the ability to learn are two of the most valuable traits that a backup player in the NFL can have.
"All week we practice listening to our coaches and on Sundays we do what they say," Rey said. "The key is to listen. My life has been a life of listening."
In the offseason and preseason, there is only so much time available to impress coaches before each round of roster cuts in late summer require the coaches to re-evaluate each player and decide who is consistently ready for anything that is asked of them.
"It goes by fast," Tate said. "You got to take care of your body. Be mentally ready because everybody is physically ready. It makes you feel good about the job you’re doing."
The grind and pressure of the offseason, training camp, and preseason are all too familiar to players like Rey and Tate. But, each player has survived on the Bengals' roster despite long odds. Being an undrafted player, Rey wasn’t even expected to have a shot to make the roster in 2010. But, he's become a mainstay on the Bengals' defense and his spot on the roster this year is all but guaranteed. He has proven his worth time and again and has risen to the occasion when Vontaze Burfict has been off-the-field due to injury.
Similarly, fans and media alike tend to count Tate out of the roster discussion fairly regularly every year, despite the fact that he always manages to squeeze his way onto the final roster. In 2016, Tate will again attempt to make a wide receiver roster that isn't all that experienced or deep. He's held down the Bengals' returning duties for most of his time in Cincinnati and though he's not among the best at the position in the NFL, the Bengals have continued to trust him.
In both cases, each player knows what it’s like to be counted out and find success anyway and each will look to do the same this year.
"You can’t look at the past," Tate said at his camp. "You just keep going."