For the next 10 days, we're taking a look at Cincinnati Bengals who could be on the dreaded training camp roster bubble later this summer. These are players whom we think you should expect to see fighting for spots when the eventual 75-man preseason roster gets trimmed to the regular-season 53.
As permitted by league rules, the roster currently stands at 89.
Why he's on the bubble: I'm leaning more toward the wideout Tate ultimately making the team, but there are reasons he'll want to make sure his entire game is in peak condition when training camp begins late next month. Chief among those reasons is the fact that he lacks the overall versatility that's needed. By the end of last season, Tate was pretty much on the roster to serve only as the team's kick and punt returner. He ended up getting more time fielding punts than he or anyone else was expecting because Adam Jones was pulled off punt return duty when the secondary went through its wave of injuries. It made sense to shelve the usual punt returning Jones to prevent him from getting banged up, too. In terms of receiving, Tate hasn't done much of that his entire career and certainly barely did any last season. He had only one catch for 6 yards on two targets. Simply put, the Bengals have enough potential kick and punt returners auditioning for the position this summer that Tate's services may not be necessary when the Bengals start making their final cuts.
What he has to do to get off the bubble: Primarily, Tate will need to show the coaches in preseason practices and games at receiver that he could be an asset off the bench. He'll likely be competing for the final receiver spot with the likes of Cobi Hamilton and rookies James Wright and Colin Lockett. Both also have characteristics that could make them ideal bottom-of-the-depth-chart adds. Along with playing well at receiver, Tate will have to prove in the preseason that not only is he a good kick returner, but that he can be an elite one. Among those with more than 30 kick returns last season, Tate ranked fifth in the league in return average at 26.1 yards. He'll have to show that he can put up even better averages in the preseason. If he breaks one for a touchdown, that's even better.
Odds he makes the team: High. I should point out there's only five levels to my odds for players making the team: very low, low, 50/50, high and very high. Tate looms somewhere between 50/50 and high. I wouldn't want to flat-out say he's unequivocally going to make the team at this point, but I also don't want to say he's got a 50/50 shot (although, in theory, I guess every player on the 89-man roster has a 50/50 chance). While I do think there could be a space for him Aug. 30, it's tough to say definitively that there will be. The numbers just aren't in his favor at either of his positions: receiver or returner. Tate re-signed this offseason to a one-year deal that will pay him $100,000 guaranteed, so there's a good chance the Bengals thought they'd be holding on to him when training camp arrived. But the recent additions of Wright and Lockett could make those odds a little slimmer. The full health of Cincinnati's secondary also gives Jones the opportunity to go back to returning punts, suddenly making the kick-returning Tate a one-trick pony.