Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Three times? Golden Tate has flashed in pre-season practices every year for three years. Each year, he gets “play of the day” honors. Each year local media starts to talk up how this could be his breakout season. Then the games start, and the production stops.Tate’s sparkling punt return for a touchdown last week was impressive, but it obscured what has so far been another unproductive pre-season.
NOTE: 2012 stats are through three pre-season games
Tate was struggling to produce last year in pre-season until he had a big 5 catch, 79 yard performance in the fourth game. He was steady, if not spectacular, in his sophomore season. His most notable accomplishment was not dropping a single pass. Catching the ball, though, has never been Tate’s issue.
He can make leaping, acrobatic, catches in traffic. He can bulldoze defenders and run after the catch. Tate’s challenge has been getting open consistently enough to get the opportunity to make those plays. Many of his eye-popping plays in practice come when he is well-covered down the sideline and leaps up to make the play anyway. It is a terrific skill, and one I think matches perfectly with Russell Wilson’s willingness to let his receivers make plays, but it does not make someone a starting caliber receiver in the NFL.
It is important to see more variety of routes from Tate. He needs to show he can separate from defenders. He needs to prove to the quarterbacks that he will be in the right place at the right time. All indications are that he has been taking football more seriously off the field. This will be the season that defines Tate’s ceiling. The hope is that he can prove himself to be the dynamic playmaker many thought he would be coming out of Notre Dame. Fans would be forgiven should they choose to see it before they believe it.