This offseason, rookie receiver Auden Tate was turning heads with his immense size and ability to catch nearly everything thrown his way. The impressions he made were so large that rumblings began surfacing about his ability to make an impact on this team right away.
Well, fast-forward through 11 weeks of the regular season, and Tate has only been active for two games, including this past Sunday against the Ravens, with just one reception. For those who have been wondering why he hasn’t suited up much this year, head coach Marvin Lewis talked about it on Monday.
“He will get there when he gets his opportunity, when the time comes. His involvement in the offense is what it is,” Lewis said of the seventh-round pick. “He’s a guy that’s been on the practice squad for a reason, OK?”
As the season began, Tate was the odd man out as the seventh receiver. The team kept six on the final roster with Tate placed on the practice squad, but recent injuries to A.J. Green and Josh Malone forced the team to call him up and dress him this week.
“He’s been a free agent for all 32 (teams) to take a look at,” Lewis continued. “You see what I’m saying? It is what it is. Not many times you’re going to take a guy off the practice squad and go win an NFL game with him.”
Lewis has a valid point here, as it seems like an annual affair that Bengals fans worry that a certain preseason star will be released and nabbed up by another squad. It didn’t happen with Jake Kumerow a couple of years ago, and it didn’t occur with Tate this summer.
However, there are a couple of glaring hypocritical aspects to Lewis’ statements on Tate. After all, the media member who posed this question did so because of the amount of injuries at the position.
Lewis also added some excuses for his rationale based on Tate’s play in limited opportunities.
“Short of the design of the route. Last week, he dropped a ball in his one opportunity. We just have to keep going. Auden is a young player. He has some ability, and hopefully he will make some plays if he continues to get an opportunity down the stretch for us,” Lewis said.
There was also an interesting point by a fan on Twitter:
The only reception from the #3 WR came from this guy whose "involvement in the offense is what it is". Onbhis lone snap nonetheless! We have serious problems at the coaching level, but that's nothing anybody doesn't already know— Adam Bullock (@OregonBengalFan) November 19, 2018
The entire situation with Cody Core also brings this into question. It’s no secret that Lewis has traditionally loved to keep players at certain positions who contribute on special teams—sometimes even more so than they would at their traditional position in their first year(s).
However, Core was one of the goats this week after he dropped a contested, albeit catchable ball on a 4th-and-3 to seal Cincinnati’s critical loss against the Ravens. Core was a guy Lewis opted to keep on the roster because of his special teams ability, whereas Tate has been a non-factor.
With Brandon Wilson performing very well on special teams on Sunday and Core doing nothing on either that unit or on offense, the whole approach has to be called into question.
We also can’t help and look back to Lewis and his very inconsistent track record of trusting young players with big roles on his football teams. Sure, he relied on Andy Dalton and A.J. Green right away back in 2011, but his hand was forced in that situation.
Two of the best players on the Bengals’ roster came from the 2010 draft class in Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. Both were rotational players as rookies, with Dunlap being wasted away for essentially the first half of the season, as he was inactive for four of the first five games.
Did we mention that Dunlap was a second-round pick?
When he finally received a decent chance to contribute, Dunlap exploded on the scene with 9.5 sacks in the final eight games of the year. The reason for the team’s franchise leader in sacks not being used early in the year? Some vague reference to No. 96 not practicing the way he should by Lewis.
These examples continued on past Dunlap to varying degrees. Dre Kirkpatrick, Tyler Eifert, John Ross and others have all had to bide their time behind trusted veterans, or landed themselves in Lewis’ doghouse. Ross is still climbing his way out of it, but even he is proving Lewis wrong in his approach with the young guys, given his four touchdowns this season.
The additional frustrating aspect is in the team failing to make a move before the trade deadline or in outside free agency. If they had these injuries strike and Lewis had this mindset of Tate, why didn’t they explore other options to bolster the group?
Regardless, the good news is that the injuries to Green and Malone both seem to be short-term, so the questions on Tate and the group should quiet down a bit. Meanwhile, maybe Tate will begin showing Lewis enough to be counted upon going forward.