Bengals coach on Brandon Tate: playmaking consistency needed

Brandon Tate has never scored more than one receiving TD in any of his three seasons in Cincinnati. Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI -- Brandon Tate's value has often been debated among Cincinnati Bengals fans the past two preseasons.

In what has started becoming an annual tradition, calls to cut him sounded long before this year's training camp began.

Free and open-to-the-public practices start at 3 p.m. ET Friday at Paul Brown Stadium's practice fields.

Tate's standing has been a source of consternation for many within the fan base because for the bulk of the his four seasons in Cincinnati, his production as a receiver has been virtually nonexistent. His play as a kick returner has been mostly good, but it hasn't been stellar. His series of one-year contracts the last three years hasn't helped his case for becoming a fan favorite, either. Each of those offseasons, there has been some level of doubt he would be back.

The Bengals hear the concerns about Tate, but they continue believing in him. This year, that belief comes with a caveat. If Tate wants to make the Bengals look like geniuses for bringing him back by the end of this camp, he must be a more consistent playmaker, his position coach said.

"You've got to make plays, especially at the wide receiver position," receivers coach James Urban said. "He'd be the first to tell you that he's made some and he's let some get away, but you've just got to be more consistent in the playmaking area."

Tate entered the 2014 season having caught just 14 passes through three seasons as a Bengal. Last year, with injuries ravaging the pass-catching groups, he was forced into a slightly larger role. His 17 receptions were his highest single-season total since 2010. He also had 193 receiving yards, one touchdown and two fumbles.

Special-teams coordinator Darrin Simmons isn't as concerned about Tate's play in the kick- and punt-return games, where he's been a starter throughout his time in Cincinnati. To Simmons, any end-of-camp decisions regarding Tate must end with discussions about how he can better contribute as a pass-catcher.

"Where Brandon has to make an impact -- more of an impact -- is at receiver," Simmons said. "I know what he can do in the return game. We're waiting for him to make an explosion or we're looking for him as somebody to be counted on as an offensive player, too. There's two sides to that coin. You've got to be valuable in that regard, too."

What has most contributed to Tate's inconsistency as a receiver? Urban didn't want to get into specifics, but he made it clear the wideout had to sharpen technical aspects of his game.

"It's not always the same thing," Urban said. "But at the end of the day, we joke about it in our room all the time: when in doubt, catch the ball. You want to talk about hand placement, we can talk about hand placement. You want to talk about 'you should have come back at a sharper angle, you didn't burst enough, you didn't go deep enough, you didn't do this, you didn't do that' -- when in doubt, catch the football.

"I love coaching off completions."

While James Wright's addition to the injured reserve this week likely saved Tate from getting cut, Tate still has to compete with six others for a job at the back end of the rotation. The Bengals know he'll fight hard for that roster spot.

"Brandon's a pro," Urban said. "He shows up every day and he'll be out there competing his tail off. I will never bet against him."