Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – Even after all of the success Charlie Weis has had in recruiting since he arrived in South Bend, a quick glance at the Notre Dame roster and one thing is abundantly clear – the Irish lack proven playmakers at the receiver position. The one “x-factor” at the position, however, is rising sophomore Golden Tate who is starting to become a more polished receiver this summer.
As a true freshman making the switch from high school running back to college wide receiver, Tate struggled to pick up the offense and the nuisances of the receiver position. As Charlie Weis told the media on Sunday, Tate was basically a guy who could run fast that happened to play wide receiver.
“He’s head and shoulders above where he was last year at this time and I’m not just saying that because you asked the question. I’m saying it because it’s the truth,” Weis said on Saturday. “He’s much more dependable and he looks more like a receiver that knows how to be a receiver not just like a guy who runs fast. “
Weis isn’t the only one who’s noticed Tate’s development since the end of last season either – his teammates have taken notice as well. Said fellow sophomore wide receiver Duval Kamara on Monday, “Golden is learning the offense a little more and he’s going to do really well this year.”
His limitations as a true freshman last year show up in his stats. Against Purdue, he caught 3 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, but had just 3 catches for 27 yards the rest of the season. The problem for the converted running back was he really only knew one route – the go route. He could use his tremendous speed to run down the field and get behind a defense but that was about it.
Watch the video below of Tate’s highlights from the Purdue game and you’ll notice all he did on each play was run in a straight line down the field. Now, he made some great plays on the ball in the air, but if a defense knows a guy is only going to run a go route, he becomes a lot easier to defend no matter how fast he is.
The challenge for Weis and wide receivers coach Rob Ianello earlier this spring and into fall camp has been to get Tate up to speed so to speak at wide receiver so that his speed and athleticism can be better utilized this year. With Tate’s pure speed, he can be a very dangerous weapon in this offense in a number of ways.
The most obvious way for Tate to make an impact on the fall is in the passing game with the ball in his hands. With his speed, he posses a matchup problem for most corners if he can show that he is more than a one route wide receiver. Another are where he could really help this offense though is ironically in the running game.
The video clip below from the Blue Gold game shows a fake end around to Tate with Robert Hughes getting the ball for a modest gain. If Tate can show he is capable of taking a few of those handoffs on the end around though, the threat of him taking that handoff could open up space for Notre Dame running backs on the fake end around.
Tate’s biggest asset to the passing game could also merely be the threat of him as a downfield option. If Tate can learn his other routes and show we can consistently get off the line without getting jammed, Tate could really open things up underneath for the other Notre Dame receivers. If Tate can show that he can make plays on out routes and comebacks, he could end up making some big plays on the double move.
Outside of Tate, Notre Dame doesn’t really have that big play guy. David Grimes is a solid receiver, but for the most part he isn’t going to get behind a defense. Duval Kamara is a huge target for Jimmy Clausen and can become a dominant receiver in one-on-one coverage because of his size, but he too isn’t really a big play guy.
Freshman Michael Floyd and Deion Walker may have the big play ability this offense needs, but both are true freshmen and can’t really be counted on to be major contributors. It would be nice if either could be that guy from day one, but how often does a true freshman step into an offense as complex as Notre Dame’s and become that big play guy right away? Not very often.
Tate, however, has the ability to be that “x-factor” this offense has been missing since for some time. Even when Jeff Samardzija was here, he was never that speed guy who could routinely get behind defenses. He had some big plays downfield, but against the elite defenses, Samardzija didn’t have the speed to get behind the safeties and that was one of the reasons Notre Dame’s passing game didn’t make a whole lot of big plays downfield against the USC’s, LSU’s, and Ohio State’s during that time.
It’s not realistic to expect Tate to go from a converted running back learning the position to anAll American big play wide receiver in just a year, but all he needs to do this year in order to really help this offense out this year is just be that downfield threat. If he burns a couple teams early in the year, suddenly defenses need to account for him and if that extra attention he garners involves playing a safety over top of him, suddenly the middle of the field is a lot more wide open for the likes of Grimes, Kamara, Floyd, Robby Parris, et al.
We should find out pretty soon just how far Tate has developed in the last year. Reports out of training camp have Tate running with the first team in three wide receiver sets pretty often for a guy who is currently only listed as the 3rd receiver at the Z position on the official depth chart.