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Darrin Simmons likes Auden Tate’s progress; frustrated by lack of production from young linebackers

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Darrin Simmons gives an update on some special team battles that could determine roster spots in a few weeks.

Cincinnati Bengals v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Predictions for 53-man rosters and players who will be cut are going to be popular over the next couple of weeks.

As a Bengals fan, you may be confused or upset as to why your favorite offensive or defensive player didn’t make the cut over another. The reason why the other player made it may just boil down to special teams contributions.

The fact of the matter is a teams sixth wide receiver or fifth linebacker probably aren’t going to see the field too much on offense or defense. The place you will see them most is during special teams.

One player who fans had concerns over being able to contribute on special teams is wide receiver Auden Tate, but Bengals coordinator Darrin Simmons has really enjoyed watching Tate’s progress from last season.

“I think probably the understanding, his understanding of what to do (has improved),” Simmons told Richard Skinner of WKRC. “The preseason is a lot about experimentation and moving him around. I’ve moved him — the positions he’s playing at right now aren’t even close to the positions he was playing a year ago. So, he’s had to learn a whole lot of new things. He’s very unique because of his size (6-foot-5, 228 pounds).

“Most of the time receivers are gunners in coverage or they play outside in coverage. He’s not. He’s a big guy. He plays slot on punt. He plays inside on kickoff. It’s different for him. Really it’s just understanding the nuances of what those specific positions entail compared to what he was playing a year ago, playing gunner, playing outside on kickoff is a completely different world for him. His biggest thing is just understanding exactly what to do.”

This is a great sign for fans that are rooting for Tate to make the 53-man roster again this season. The Bengals coaching staff would be smart to find a way to get Tate onto the roster and include him in some red zone plays, especially with wide receiver A.J. Green likely to be out at least Week 1 of the NFL season.

For rookies in the NFL, especially undrafted players, special teams is the easiest route to making the roster. Simmons is excited to see rookie running back Rodney Anderson finally get out there and play special teams after being activated last week. Simmons is also hoping to see the team’s pair of undrafted rookie wide receivers show off more.

“It’s going to be great to see what Rodney Anderson can do this week,” Simmons said. “He’s going to get thrust into a predominant role, because we’ve gotta see. It’s time to unleash him and see what he can do. I think Stanley Morgan’s made some plays or has done OK. Damion and Stanley have both played a decent amount. I’ve gotta see more out of them. Again, neither one of them has separated themselves.”

Anderson will likely be placed into the Cedric Peerman role as the team’s fourth running back. Fans should be excited about the possibility about what he can do as a running back, but for 2019 his biggest impact will be on special teams.

As for the receivers, they should know they have a real shot at making the 53-man roster. This coaching staff doesn’t have ties to guys like Josh Malone or Cody Core, and they could very well take a spot for at least Week 1. They won’t be able to do that though if they can’t make plays on special teams.

Let's be real, they likely won’t see any snaps at receiver Week 1, but they would see almost all of the special teams snaps. It is very clear that Simmons is trying to give these guys a push in the right direction.

The undrafted rookie wide receivers weren’t the only young players to be told they haven’t been impressive on special teams, though. Simmons also had his eyes set on the linebackers.

“We’ve gotta get better play out of the backup linebackers,” Simmons said. “(Rookie draft picks) Germaine Pratt, Deshaun Davis, they’ve gotta play better. Somebody’s gotta show up out of that group. Right now, you can throw them in the middle of a hat and pull one out right now to play (special) teams. So somebody’s gotta show they want the spots and they can separate themselves from the rest of the herd. Right now, they have not. We’re going to have two more opportunities to do that and they’ve gotta show.”

It is no secret that special teams isn’t a glorious position. Players rarely get the spotlight for doing their job exceptionally well there, but it is a crucial area for any NFL team. kickoffs, punts and field goals can completely turn a game around.

If your punt returner is consistently able to help with field position because he is receiving good legal blocks, it helps the offense. If your coverage unit is able to contain the opposing team’s returner, your defense is going to have a good day.

Those ideas seem obvious, but they aren’t achieved by throwing players who are put there by default because they’re backups. You need guys who are motivated to run down the field and make a block or tackle to help change the game.

It is clear Simmons is hoping over the final two weeks of the preseason that he sees some players start to earn those roles.