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Learning on the run
As Matt Hasselbeck quickly scanned the field, the Seahawks quarterback could not believe what he was seeing: Golden Tate running wide open.
“He may run the wrong route sometimes, but he’ll make the play,” Hasselbeck said Monday after the team’s latest OTA practice.
Like on that particular play, as Tate zagged when he should have zigged.
“He ran the absolute wrong route,” Hasselbeck said of the team’s second-round draft choice. “But he was open, and I threw it to him and he made a great play. So in a lot of ways, you can just tell his head is swimming.”
Welcome to Tate’s not-always-Golden transition from a Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver at Notre Dame last year to a rookie pass-catcher in the NFL. And catching passes is just of the things the coaches are asking Tate to not only grasp, but master.
He was out early before practice to get some work returning kickoffs. He stayed after practice to field punts. During practice, he got ample work at the Z – or flanker – spot; after playing split end for the Irish.
“I’m just trying to learn,” Tate said. “I know that I can play ball, I’m just trying to learn it and play fast. Once I learn it, I can play faster and understand what’s going on a little better.
“The thing is, when you don’t know what you’re doing you play unsure.”
With growing into the role come growing pains.
“He made a couple of bonehead blunders today where he just went the wrong way on routes,” coach Pete Carroll said. “At this time, I think that’s totally understandable.”
That’s because Tate also is playing catch up on the run. He attended the post-draft minicamp, but then had to leave the facility for two weeks because of a league-mandated – and outdated – rule. While his new teammates were practicing, attending meetings and participating in the strength and conditioning program, Tate was studying the playbook at home – with an assist from his mom.
“Absolutely that helped,” Tate said. “I had my mom make flashcards for me and even repeat the plays. So she did a great job helping me with that.”
Tate also leaned on Hasselbeck, as they exchanged texts so the rookie could know exactly what he was missing.
“He definitely was studying,” Hasselbeck said. “I was kind of telling him which installations were coming up. He’s done a pretty good job. But I’m sure if you were to ask him, he probably would say, ‘Hey, I need to know what I’m doing better.’ ”
Talk about taking the words right out of Tate’s mouth.
But there are some things you just can’t coach or teach. Like the ability to go up between three defenders and come down with the ball, as Tate did Monday on a pass from Charlie Whitehurst. That’s when Golden Tate the receiver reverted to being Golden Tate the outfielder. He was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Pope John II High School in Henderson, Tenn., and played baseball for a season at Notre Dame.
“It’s something I learned in baseball,” the 5-foot-10 Tate explained. “You’re always taught to catch the ball at its highest point. I’m catching a small ball there, so it’s a little different. But I’m just trying to high-point the ball.
“I’m not the typical 6-3, 6-4 guy. So I can’t stay on the ground and expect to make a good play. So what I do if a ball is thrown to a point where I can go up and make a play, I feel like I can.”
His new teammates have noticed, especially those who put the ball in those high-point positions.
“When the ball is in the air, he goes up and gets it like it’s his,” Hasselbeck said. “And that’s very important as a wide receiver.”
So is running the proper route – on every play. That will come as the speed of the game at this level slows down, which will happen when Tate has not only a better grasp of what he’s doing, and why, but the entire passing game.
“Our playbook is more conceptual, so I’ve got to learn the basics of it and then build from that,” he said. “I’m trying to learn all the positions, so if injuries come around or they think I’m better at another position, I can just jump right in there versus trying to teach myself that position. So I’m trying to learn the whole playbook.”
As far as Carroll is concerned, it’s just a matter of time.
“Golden is a natural learner,” he said. “So what we have to be careful of is throwing too much at him too soon. … We have to do a really nice job in the teaching process. But there’s nothing to hold him back. He really gets it. He’s a gifted athletic. We’re really excited about the things he has done and he has continued to show he can make plays.
“That all adds into what makes him such a unique player. He’s done a lot of cool stuff so far, but he’s a long way from being able to play because he just doesn’t know what he’s doing yet.”
Imagine the impact Tate can have when he comprehends what he’s doing as well as he does it. Read