Wow, first off, what a classic night in baseball. I guess I picked a pretty good night to take my son to his very first Major League Baseball game. Even on a wet night in Baltimore, he loved it — a historic night, no doubt.
Okay, on to Maryland. What’s the matter with Kenny Tate? That’s the question I have been getting a lot lately. After earning first-team all-ACC honors last season, Tate was poised to have a dominant season and compete for all-America honors and a host of other awards. Well, by his own admission, he has not played well. We now sit one-quarter into his senior season wondering whether he will become more of a force at his new position.
Tate, as you remember, moved from safety to the Star position, a hybrid safety-linebacker slot. Tate said Tuesday that the transition to a new position is not a reason for his slow start.
“I feel I have not played up to my potential,” Tate said. “I am definitely comfortable in the new position now. Change is not really a factor. I have not prepared well enough. I need to do better in all aspects.”
Last season, Tate racked up 100 tackles, four forced fumbles and three interceptions at safety. He really found himself making plays and lining up at times all over the field in coordinator Don Brown’s chaotic scheme. Coaches estimated that Tate was within seven yards of the line of scrimmage in 80 to 85 percent of the plays last season. This season, Tate has 26 tackles. Against Miami, he had 11 tackles and intercepted a pass.
“I am capable of everything I did last year,” he said. “I am still able to make plays in the open field.”
The expectations for Tate are high, and he alluded to pressure in this response about whether he is frustrated.
“I wouldn’t say frustrating,” Tate said. “I know a lot of people are looking for me to make plays. I try to keep that pressure off me. If I get that in my head, that I have to make a play, as a team player I don’t want to risk making a play and it hurts my team.
“When you go out [thinking], ‘I gotta make a play,’ if it’s not in the framework of the team, it could lead to a blown coverage. And I don’t want to hurt my team.”
But Tate said it takes just one play to turn things around. He talked about the need to play with a higher level of intensity for an entire game, adding that “as a known leader, I need to bring that more to my game, playing with that passion a lot more.”
Tate is a cerebral player. He is not particularly extroverted or loud. He said before games he doesn’t jump around, yell or bang his head on his locker. Instead, he listens to rap, gospel or slow jams and tries to focus, collect himself and prepare for the game in his own mind.
He said one of the things he has been doing is studying more during the week. “You can never prepare too much,” he said. “It’s when you try to do too much, that’s when you get hurt.”
I am unable to talk to any assistant coaches during the regular season because of this season’s team media policy. But Coach Randy Edsall has said that Tate has to be careful not to try to do too much on defense.
After Edsall announced Sunday that safety Matt Robinson would miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, coaches considered switching Tate back to the safety position.
“But I didn’t think that was going to be the right move for our team when you look at the big picture,” Edsall said. “You don’t just look at one person when that happens. You have to look in terms of how you’re making one move but if you move Kenny now you are making two moves. I feel comfortable, and Kenny will start playing better. Hopefully we won’t get any more injuries at positions.”
Whether Tate can be more productive and disruptive defensively is one of the more significant story lines to follow with this team as it looks to get itself back on track the next couple weeks.