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At Safety, Tate's a Big Hit

Terps Sophomore Is Turning Heads In the Secondary

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen rarely says this about a football player, much less directly to him, but he had seen enough of Kenny Tate through two weeks of preseason camp to know that the strong safety was not meeting coaches' expectations. The sophomore was far exceeding them.

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"When we recruited you, you told me you wanted to be an impact player," Friedgen told Tate. "Right now you are an impact player. Keep playing the way you are playing. You are a force."

Preseason camp usually follows a regimented order under Friedgen. He conducts practice for a few hours and then addresses reporters in his office, sitting in a soft chair and saying specific players are "showing me something" or "not giving us what we had hoped." Praise is rarely effusive, and hyperbole nonexistent, particularly in August.

That changed last week. Sometimes unprompted, Friedgen chose glowing terms to describe Tate, and made clear that no player on either side of the ball has impressed coaches more than the 19-year-old DeMatha alum. Over two days recently, Friedgen compared Tate to a one-man band, a baseball pitcher equipped with an deceptive curveball and fastball, and a basketball guard with a deft spin move. He called Tate's play "sensational."

"We're saying all this, we haven't played a game yet," Friedgen acknowledged. "But I'll tell you what: If he does in the games what he is doing now, he'll get a lot of honors."

The aggressive, unorthodox defense employed by first-year coordinator Don Brown is uniquely suited for Tate's talents because of the player's size, strength and versatility. At 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, Tate has lined up in coverage in the defensive backfield and also rushed the passer from the linebacker position. Hardly a practice goes by without coaches saying that Tate intercepted another pass or caused general havoc.

"We can't block him," Friedgen gushed.

Starting quarterback Chris Turner, who has the unenviable task of observing an oncoming Tate in practice, hardly catches a breath when describing Tate, saying: "Kenny is a problem. His instincts are so advanced, the way he times up the count when he is blitzing and plays in coverage and reads receivers and reads me and the space he covers just with his wingspan alone, it is really impressive to see. It's something else."

Count Tate among the least impressed with his performance. He said he has a ways to improve, and needs to work on his pass coverage. But he expected to do well and even thrive as a sophomore, because he didn't come to Maryland to blend in.

Tate arrived at Maryland last season with considerable acclaim. He had been ranked the 16th-best wide receiver in the nation by Scout.com and turned down more than 100 scholarship offers to sign with Maryland. But before the start of last season, Tate moved from wide receiver to safety because Friedgen was concerned with depth in the secondary.

"Everybody was like, 'Kenny, I have never seen a 6-4 safety before,' " Tate recalled those close to him telling him. "I was like, 'You know, that is pretty unusual.' "

One of just four true freshmen to see action for the Terrapins last season, Tate played in all 13 games as a reserve safety and a special teams player. He made a career-high three tackles against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 20 and made his first interception in the Humanitarian Bowl victory over Nevada, giving coaches a glimpse of what he could offer this season.

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