I had the pleasure of covering Kenny Tate for the final three years of his time at Maryland. He was always great in interviews, win or lose, and always answered every question honestly -- a rarity in today's day-and-age where coach-speak rules the day. He wasn't the best interview, and who could be with A.J. Francis on the team, but he was a guy you respected.
Before I get into the meat of this article, I need to pull the curtain back a bit -- full disclosure, I'm an alumnus of St. John's in DC. While I was there all my school ever did was lose to DeMatha, Tate's alma mater, and while I hated -- I mean, HATED -- DeMatha and watched him destroy my alma mater, I had nothing but respect for him (and more importantly, all of DeMatha's athletic department, you were better than us).
I wanted Kenny Tate to be the best player Maryland ever had, and I honestly thought he could have been that. When he first signed, you have to understand how hard for me it was to say that. DeMatha isn't as big a rival for St. John's as Gonzaga is, but they are pretty close. So for me to think this of Tate, kind of shows you where I was coming from.
Now that you get where I'm coming from, let me just say that this isn't me saying he's a bust. He wasn't. This also isn't me making excuses for him because of his injuries, although I think we all agree we give him a pass for those.
No, what this really is, is a look at how he things went so right the first three years, and then, well, collapsed.
Tate came in highly-regarded, one of the best recruits Ralph Friedgen brought in to the program. He was ESPN Top 150 (#132 to be exact), and a consensus top-20 receiver in the country. Before his freshman season began, he was moved from receiver to safety to get him immediate playing time.
Friedgen was quoted telling the Washington Post:
"He is really a phenomenal athlete and he really has tremendous hands. He made some plays the other day that were like, 'Whoa,' going up and catching the ball with one hand. He is a pretty good man-cover guy for a guy who is 6-3, 220 pounds. He plays on the slots, and Coach [James] Franklin can’t find the slots because he covers them up so well."
Tate didn't start as a freshman, but still managed to be one of four true freshmen to play in 2008. Tate saw increased playing time as a sophomore, and began to form a solid partnership with Antwine Perez, but both were over-shadowed by upperclassmen.
The break for Tate, and to a lesser extent, Perez, came in 2010. Tate was a junior and had all the talent in the world, he was on preseason "breakout candidate" lists and even on saw some press from future mock draft sites.
Tate put in one of the best seasons I can recall from a Maryland safety in 2010. He was named All-ACC First team by multiple outlets, and second-team by others. He was on the Bronco Nagurski watch list throughout the season and became just the second Maryland safety since 2000 to reach 100 tackles.
Basically, I'm saying in 2010, Tate was a dominant force in the Maryland secondary.
And then Randy Edsall came to College Park.
I don't want this to read as me blaming Edsall or his defensive coordinators (Don Brown in 2011 and Brian Stewart in 2012), but I think we can all agree the move to linebacker was a mistake. Tate, Edsall, Brown and Stewart may never admit it, but boy... we all know it.
What made Tate so valuable at safety was his range to make plays on the ball and his ability to make plays in the box. You see, Kenny Tate was the total package in a safety, and it was no secret, guys like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay had Tate as one of their top safties in the draft before his senior year. I've been unable to find Kiper's old "Top 5's" and "Big Boards" but Tate made appearances on both.
2011 saw Tate over-matched coming around the end as a linebacker constantly taking a beating going up against bigger offensive lineman. It wasn't a good fit, and eventually succumbed to a season-ending knee injury. Tate's ball-hawking skills were still on display as he had two interceptions in the four games he played, but wasn't nearly as effective coming off the edge.
It almost felt like his talents were wasted. Despite the injury, and at times, ineffective play, Tate returned to linebacker in 2012 to the surprise of everyone.
However, with the emergence of Eric Franklin in his place in 2011 and the development of Matt Robinson, Tate was again back at linebacker in 2012. And again in 2012, Tate suffered an injury that ruined his season.
Kenny still finished with 42 tackles and 4.0 sacks, but the play-making ability just wasn't on display early in the season and it looked like he wasn't fully recovered from his injury. Tate never looked comfortable at linebacker, not even in 2012 and didn't look as explosive thanks to the added muscle/bulk that was required to play linebacker.
I mentioned that Tate could be a cautionary tale, and I'm afraid that's what he will be. His natural position was safety -- well, after it was receiver -- and he was an all-conference player there, why tinker? Now it looks like another Maryland safety is moving to outside linebacker coming off an injury. Matt Robinson wasn't nearly the play-maker that Tate was, but he was still very good in the secondary and is being moved to accommodate younger guys.
Again, I think this is a mistake. You should have learned your lesson from Kenny Tate and the way he was handled, and keep Robinson at safety.
Tate could have been an all-time great at Maryland, that was his trajectory, and he was derailed after an injury. Robinson may not have the potential Tate did, but it's not too late to learn from your mistakes.
Time for you to weigh in, is Tate a bust? Did he live up to his potential? Do you think Matt Robinson should make the switch back to linebacker? Sound off in the comments below (like I need to tell any of you)!