His 97-yard touchdown versus the St. Louis last Thursday was a sight to behold. Precisely blocked, expertly read, and impressively executed by Brandon Tate and the 10 other Patriots in front of him. Once he saw the hole, made a cut, and turned on his natural jets, there was no Ram who could catch him.
What a way to make a first impression.
Except this isn't quite the first time we've seen Tate. In his NFL debut last season, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, the first time he stepped on the field as a pro, he took an end-around handoff from Tom Brady and raced 11 yards for a first down.
But midway through his rookie year, after just two games, the speedster from North Carolina was placed on injured reserve, abruptly ending his first season in New England. His cameo, however, may have been a portent of his promising potential.
]()"It felt good to get in the end zone. It's preseason," Tate admitted, "but it's my first NFL touchdown. Felt real good. It gives me a lot of confidence to go out there, relax, and play football."
Tate is being asked to play quite a bit of football for the Patriots so far in 2010. Not only has he been the primary kickoff returner, he also filled in for the injured Julian Edelmanas the chief punt returner, and has been getting significant reps at wide receiver throughout the spring and summer.
A lot to ask for such a young player? Perhaps, but his head coach feels he's up to the task.
"It's kind of his first year playing, but I think him being here last year … was still a very good experience for him," Bill Belichickexplained. "And he learned a lot about preparation and our system and what opponents do and all those kind of things – keys and things like that – even though he didn't get a chance to do them.
"This training camp he's gotten a chance to do a lot of them. I think he's taken that background and that confidence and that's helped him play more aggressively, more confidently, because he's just more sure of it. He's not a rookie, but he is a rookie. I think he's done well with a lot of responsibilities. We've played him in a lot of spots on offense. And as you mentioned, he's also been involved in the return game. He's done a lot of things, and he's picked them up well."
It appears that Tate is beginning to build the confidence of Brady, as well. After today's practice, the QB spent several minutes working on timing with Tate and rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski. The two young receivers ran routes while defensive teammates provided full-speed coverage.
With only Randy Moss and Wes Welker – possibly Edelman, too – ahead of him on the receiver depth chart, Tate could be asked to play a significant role in the offense this year as well as on special teams. He says he's grateful for the advice and attention he's been getting from Brady, Moss, and Welker, and he welcomes the extra workload, even though he realizes he's still learning.
"Anything to do with football, I'll do it. I always took football seriously. When I come out here, I don't have time for playing. It's straight work. It's a job. I just go out there and compete.
"I'm demanding of myself, too," Tate added. "I want to go out there and work hard just like them. I try to match their intensity. Hopefully, I'm keeping up with them."
Wright draws a crowd
With so much uncertainty surrounding the defense in general, and the d-line in particular, Mike Wrightwas a popular interview subject after practice on Monday.
The versatile lineman, who's made a career as a role-playing reserve and part-time starter, may continue to play a more prominent part this season, now that starting left end Ty Warrenis out for the season with an injury.
"Last year, I saw a big increase in playing time, due to injuries and stuff like that. It really helped my game," Wright told reporters, "and this year, with the extra reps in training camp, also helped me build my confidence."
Technique-wise, Wright admitted that he's been improving by studying those who have been ahead of him on the depth chart.
"I try to watch the guys in front of me. Seems like every year, I've gotten a little bit lower, better with my hands. I still feel like I have a long way to go, but I get better every day. That's all I can ask for."
*Monday Practice Notes *
Seasonably warm and sunny weather allowed the Patriots to hold their Monday workout outdoors on their training camp practice fields. The team practiced in full pads.
Quite a long list of players were not in uniform, however. Wide receiver Julian Edelman, cornerbacks Terrence Wheatley, Kyle Arrington, and Leigh Bodden, defensive back Bret Lockett, safety Brandon McGowan, rookie defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick, offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, defensive linemen Ron Brace, Darryl Richard, and Myron Pryor, and rookie linebacker Jermaine Cunningham. Guard Logan Mankinsremains unsigned.
A half-dozen players were in attendance in shorts and t-shirts. They stretched, then went inside the Dana-Farber Field House to work on their rehab activities. Among them were Arrington, Hernandez, Pryor, Cunningham, and Brace.
On a positive note, wide receivers Darnell Jenkinsand Matthew Slater, as well as rookie linebacker Dane Fletcher, were back in pads for the first time in several practices.