Second-year wide receiver looks to earn bigger role with Bengals

Auden Tate grabbed attention last preseason as a big-bodied target making plays at wide receiver, but didn’t quite factor into the Cincinnati Bengals’ plans until injuries created need later in the year.

This summer the second-year player is getting even more opportunities to shine and taking advantage. With A.J. Green and John Ross not practicing because of injury, Tate has been running with the first- and second-team offenses in practice and could earn a bigger role with the team this season.

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“I am just taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to me,” Tate said this week. “When plays are called to come my way, I just try to make the catch or if the block comes my way, try to make the block. I am just trying to do whatever I need to do to make the team better.”

Tate had his first touchdown of the preseason Thursday in a road win against the Washington Redskins. He nearly had one Saturday at Kansas City when he caught a 26-yard pass from Andy Dalton on the opening drive and was tackled just short of the goal line.

In practices, he’s made over-the-top and behind-the-back catches and proved he isn’t just a big target at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds – he’s got good hands, too.

“We understand what he is and what he can do,” Dalton said of Tate. “You see his size, he’s so much bigger than a lot of these corners he’s going against. That’s what you see is the games. You give him an opportunity to go up and make a play like that and he comes down with it more times than not. It’s nothing new. Obviously, other people maybe taking notice because it happened in a game. But we’ve been seeing it in practice, we’ve been seeing what he’s been able to do since he’s been here. This is a good opportunity for him to fight for playing time.”

Tate, a seventh-round draft pick out of Florida State, played some tight end in high school and can be a good blocker as well. He said that was something he was asked to do a lot of under Jimbo Fisher in college.

He likes to show he can be used in multiple ways. Quarterbacks have come to realize if they put the ball up in the air, he can make a play.

“I think that’s definitely showing,” Tate said. “The guys are showing a lot of trust in me and giving me opportunities they might not normally throw so I just appreciate them. That’s just earning trust in practices, making the same type catches and trying to be consistent with it.”

The 22-year-old from Tampa, Fla., said he feels more comfortable in his second season and some of what he’s showing this preseason is just a natural progression from Year 1 to Year 2.

“Everything definitely slows down for you,” he said. “From being around the older guys, to meetings, the game, everything slows down and you get a better understanding of it and you just go out and play.”

The other big difference between this year and last year is his opportunities often are coming against the first-team defense, either in practice on in the two preseason games so far. He showed what he could do last preseason, including a 33-yard touchdown against the Bears, but he was still pushing to get reps as a rookie while Green and Ross were both healthy last preseason and guys like Alex Erickson, Cody Core and Josh Malone still ahead of him on the depth chart. Most of his opportunities were against the second- and third-team defenses.

Now, Tate and Malone are getting a lot of the first-team reps with Tyler Boyd, and what they do now will carry more weight coming against better competition.

“Normally in training camp, you see guys that aren’t necessarily starters get anxious because they don’t get very many reps,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “They know that if they have a bad play, they might not get back in the game. That’s not the case with our guys, because we’ve had so many injuries. These guys have gotten plenty of reps, so it leaves them to be free and go out there and just make plays and have confidence.

“Auden is a great example of one of those guys who’s always trying to finish runs the right way on the back side. You can count on him. There’s a certain package of routes that he really excels at, one of them being the fade route because of his big body and aggressive hands. He’s made the plays that have come to him, and that’s what you have to do in the preseason.”


Giants at Bengals, 7 p.m., Ch. 12, 22; 700, 1530, 102.7

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