I was incredibly excited when Maryland landed Tate in 2008; even though they were deep at WR then (and still are) I was excited to be able to land a local game with his combination of size and speed. I thought that he would be able to make an impact, regardless of the plethora of talent at the position.
Now, here we are in 2010 and I'm wondering why Tate is floundering in mediocrity. Surely we all remember the accolades from Fridge prior to last year.
"When we recruited you, you told me you wanted to be an impact player," Friedgen told Tate. "Right now you are an impact player. Keep playing the way you are playing. You are a force."
"We're saying all this, we haven't played a game yet," Friedgen acknowledged. "But I'll tell you what: If he does in the games what he is doing now, he'll get a lot of honors."
"We can't block him," Friedgen gushed.
Well Ralph, your line couldn't block anyone last year either. Maybe you should have recruited more heavily along the offensive line in 2005-06, but I digress...
In any case, Tate has not lived up to the expectations set by his Rivals ranking and by Ralph himself. He accounted for only one interception last year, and although he is a strong safety, judging by Ralph's gushing I assumed that Tate's season was considered an underachievement.
One reason for his lack of production, in my eyes, comes from Don Brown's misuse of Tate. Often, Tate was lined up as a blitzing linebacker in order to attempt to get pressure on the QB. However, he hardly ever managed to get to the quarterback and was often blocked out of the play or rendered ineffective. Part of this is understandable, Tate played WR throughout his high school career, so obviously, he never developed the correct technique for rushing the passer. But if it is this obvious to me, why didn't Don Brown figure it out over the course of the season? Tate logged only a single sack in all of 2009 and none in 2008, when he was often used in the same role.
When watching Tate, it seems to me that he lacks the defensive instincts to really excel at the position. However, I think he is not helped by the fact that he is often played out of position. I think it is a much smarter idea to use Tate (who has 4.4 closing speed) in zone coverage or almost as a center-fielder position so he can utilize his size, speed, and physicality to punish receivers and catch interceptions.
That being said, I am still left wondering whether or not Tate is simply being played out of position. Sure, the coaches gush over him but it has yet to translate into production on the field. There is still a part of me that thinks he would be better suited at wide receiver. The position is rather stacked, but right now, the likely number 2 receiver is Adrian Cannon. I have a hard time believing that Tate would lose out in a position battle to Cannon. With Torrey Smith and Kenny Tate on the field at the same time, we would have a very dangerous combination of speed and size with both of our receivers.
Tate has the athleticism to succeed at strong safety, I just hope his mental game picks up and he can develop the instinctual abilities that will make him a top safety.