'Want to' makes Brandon Tate versatile option for Bengals

CINCINNATI -- If there were Pro Bowl spots specifically for punt-coverage gunners, Dre Kirkpatrick would have had one of them last season.

That's why when he points out solid play he's seen at the position from afar, it's worth paying attention.

"He's good at it, isn't he?" the Cincinnati Bengals cornerback and now former gunner said, grinning when asked about teammate Brandon Tate.

Indeed, it seems like Tate is.

As Tate tries to clear another round of training-camp cuts, the seven-year veteran has expanded his on-field repertoire. In addition to practicing at his normal receiver and return positions, he also has played gunner this summer, a spot where the Bengals have an opening now that Kirkpatrick is getting a more regular role with the defense.

There is one reason Kirkpatrick believes Tate could stick there. It's the same reason Tate likely will end up making the 53-man roster again, and the same reason he could become a more versatile option for Cincinnati this season.

Quite simply, Tate has a high "want-to" factor.

"You got to want it," Kirkpatrick said of playing gunner.

Tate called the "want-to" factor "everything" at the position. "It starts with that first," Tate said.

In other words, how badly does Tate want to get past the blockers double-teaming him? How badly does he want to make this team again?

Pretty badly, it would appear. Wednesday, during a joint practice with the Giants, Tate put on a clinic during a drill that pitted one team's gunners against punt-return blockers from the other team. When Tate burst off the line sprinting left, he quickly got past his two Giants blockers without getting touched before settling downfield in the face of a stand-in punt returner.

Bengals coaches shouted compliments.

"It's more toughness than it is speed," Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said about playing gunner. "We've played with guys like Tab Perry, a real good gunner for us at one time, and Kevin Walter who was a good gunner for us, and those certainly weren't the fastest guys. But they were the toughest guys and the most physical, and they had the most desire."

One certainly can't question Tate's desire. For each of the past three preseasons the question about whether Tate belongs on the team has been a hot topic for fans and media. Each time the question comes up, Tate digs deep, pushes through camp and makes the roster. James Wright's move to the injured reserve likely makes Tate's inclusion this season a foregone conclusion, but he still wants to prove he can be a valued and versatile member of the organization.

"The more I can do, the better," Tate said.

When it comes to playing gunner -- the position where the play of cornerbacks Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard helped punter Kevin Huber secure the league's fourth-best net punting average last season, not to mention his first Pro Bowl nod -- what makes "want-to" such an important trait to have?

"Man, it's two people on one out there. And you just got to think like, 'Do I want to be embarrassed? Or do I want to embarrass somebody else?" Kirkpatrick said. "Ain't no in between when it comes to that, because if they get their hands on you, you're either going in the watercooler or getting body slammed. If they don't get their hands on you, you're going to make the tackle or you're going to force a fair catch."

If Tate can do the latter as frequently as Kirkpatrick did, then his "want-to" must be right where it should be.