Jan 5, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Brandon Tate (19) returns a punt during the fourth quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
And then we have the Tate debate. Does Marvin Lewis really want to keep him for another season to run-out kickoff from the back of his endzone, not to mention fielding punts at his own 1-yard line? He doesn’t offer anything as a receiver that Cobi Hamilton or Ryan Whalen doesn’t, so his only real value is on special teams. If someone can step up and take on a bigger role on return duties, then Tate becomes expendable.
Could that be Gio Bernard, who’s been one of the most dynamic return-men in college football over the past two seasons? If he becomes the team’s feature back, then it’s unlikely Lewis will want Bernard handling full-time return duties. It will be up to someone like Sanu, Hawkins or even Bernard Scott if he somehow makes the roster?
Sep 10, 2011; Minneapolis, MN, USA: New Mexico State Aggies wide receiver Taveon Rogers (1) catches a touchdown in the first quarter against the Minnesota Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
A darkhorse candidate here could be Taveon Rogers, who was on Bengals Reserve/Injured list for his rookie season, due to shoulder injury suffered in training camp. During his college career at New Mexico State, Rogers had 103 kickoff returns for 2728 yards (26.5) and 3 TDs. He was 2nd in the NCAA in both 2011 and ’12 in return yards, and finished his career 16th on the all-time NCAA return yardage list.
That quite a resume, but he’s still fairly unproven at the NFL level. He’ll get ample oppurtunity to showcase his abilities during training camp, and as of now, he looks like the only legitimate contender to dethrone Tate as the team’s primary kick-off returner and backup punt-returner.
The only other role to fill is the special teams tackling ace that Dan Skuta served as. He led the special teams unit in tackles for the second time in three years in 2012, notching 17 stops. He was essentially the middle linebacker of the ST, and now someone will need to step up and pick up the slack. Expect that to be backup safety Jeromy Miles, who finished second on special teams with 15 tackles in ’12. He actually led ST in tackles in ’11, and earned coaches’ “special-teamer” designation on Pro Bowl fan ballot.