Vandy's Tate looking to flourish in final year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Wesley Tate says he can do just about everything in Vanderbilt's offense, he means it.

Nothing outside of being asked to run things under center is too much for Vandy's fifth-year athlete. He started his career as a running back, but spent time in 2011 and 2012 at slot receiver before moving back to running back before last season started.

Depth issues caused so much back-and-forth for Tate, who admits to being a little frustrated with his movement at first. It was tricky picking up and understanding his routes. Where was he supposed to be? Why was he supposed to be there? What were his protection duties?

It also didn't help that when Franklin's staff arrived, Tate wasn't sure what to do when he wasn't holding the rock.

"When he had the ball in his hands he was fine, but when he didn't he would kind of watch or stop," said offensive coordinator/running backs coach John Donovan.

Getting the movement down helped, but it wasn't until he fully understood his role the position did Tate feel comfortable moving.

"At first, I was a little confused about it and wasn't really sure, but as I began to learn positioning and became comfortable with it, I understood why," Tate said.

During James Franklin's first season as Vanderbilt coach in 2011, he moved Tate to receiver because of a lack of bodies there. Tate finished the season ranking fourth on the team with 22 receptions and 187 yards. Not bad for a beginner, but just when Tate thought he'd be catching on even more, he moved back to running back the next spring. During fall camp, he started as a receiver, but left as a running back.

After rushing for 376 yards and ranking second on the team with eight touchdowns, Tate will begin the 2013 season against Ole Miss as the Commodores' No. 1 running back. And he'll do so a smarter, more complete player.

See, all that movement has benefited the 6-1, 223-pounder. He has known the running back position his entire football life and is now comfortable enough to line up at receiver or make plays in the passing game out of the backfield.

"He gives you some flexibility as far as where he can go and what he can do," Donovan said.

"He's Mr. Versatile."

The staff would love for Tate to be a do-everything player, but the hope is that he can become a true big-back. He has the build for it, but mentally he has to turn on his physical switch, Donovan said.

He's showed glimpses in the past, but it's time for Tate, who tries to mimic NFL running back Adrian Peterson's bullish running style, to be more consistent in that area and Donovan's advice has been pretty simple: "When in doubt, stick your foot in the ground and get north. You're a big, fast dude and not many people are going to want to tackle you."

More physical play could do wonders for Tate. He might be listed as the team's starter, but Franklin has made it clear that sophomores Brian Kimbrow, who has the best speed and moves at running back, and Jerron Seymour are right there with him. His position certainly isn't set in stone, but more complete play could get him closer to that.

Tate sounds ready for more pressure and more responsibility. It was easy to play behind Vandy great Zac Stacy for two seasons, but now it's Tate's turn. He felt better this summer because he knew what position he'd be playing. He helped his game by watching more film this summer than he had during any other summer combined. He reads defenses better, anticipate blitzes better and improved his footwork.

Tate's eyes have been all over the field, and with this being his last chance with the Dores, it's time for him to show what he's learned.

"For me in my career I haven't had a lot of opportunities, but when you have the opportunity, you have to take advantage of it," Tate said.

"Playing receiver has helped us be diverse in our offense, and our opponents are definitely going to see that this season."