By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — A lot has changed for Golden Tate since he came into the league three years ago, but one thing remains constant from his first training camp in 2010.
No receiver in a Seahawks uniform is better at making a quick impression at training camp as Tate is with his strong hands, ability to go up and get a ball and incredible body control.
Of course, the difference now is we know that a spectacular July and August can translate to the regular season for Tate, who last year started 15 games. He tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns and was second to Sidney Rice in receptions and yards.
Heading into a contract year, a big year for Tate could mean millions for him, and could help determine if Seattle’s offense is going to be good this year, or Super-Bowl good. And his importance to the team has only been magnified this week while Percy Harvin sits with a hip injury that may or may not cost him significant playing time this season.
When Tate, a second-round pick in 2010, first took part in training camp, he wowed fans, teammates and coaches alike with his big-play ability, but his route-running was less polished, and as he can admit now, he wasn’t really ready to put in the work it took to succeed in the NFL. It wasn’t that he was lazy, but up until then, Tate was just too athletically gifted for high school or even college defenses to stop, so why sweat the little stuff if the catches and accolades keep coming your way?
“Coming in my rookie year — in high school and in college, most of the time I was getting the ball, every other play I was getting the ball,” Tate said. “At this level, you can affect the play with blocking, and I didn’t understand that at the time. (Receivers coach Kippy Brown) and Coach Carroll were patient with me and kept pushing me, kept ramming it my head, and finally I believed it. And last year I had a few big hits, a few big catches, a few big blocks. So yeah, it’s continuous learning for me.”
Talent stopped being enough for Tate when, after an impressive early start to camp, he wound up opening the 2010 season inactive for the season opener, then ended up being something of an afterthought the rest of the season, catching just 21 passes and scoring no touchdowns as a rookie.
Things got better in 2011, but it was hardly the breakout year he or the Seahawks were hoping for, and there was even talk before that season that he was in danger of being cut because of the emergence of Doug Baldwin.
Then last year it all clicked for Tate, and while the raw numbers weren’t spectacular — that will happen when you play for a team that throws the ball fewer than any other in the league — he was a big part of the growth of Seattle’s offense under rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
“(I’ve made) huge jumps every year,” Tate said. “I’ve just learned a lot each and every year. I’ve never been satisfied. I’ve had the coaching staff, Kippy Brown, Coach Carroll, be on my butt. I’ve just been working, every day working to get to the position I’m in now to be a starter, to be a guy this organization can rely on.”
This year, how Tate performs is hugely important for both him and the Seahawks. The addition of Harvin figures to cut into every receiver’s production, but now that Harvin’s health is in question, that could force the Seahawks to rely more than expected on Tate, Rice and Baldwin, who held more than their own last season, especially later in the year when the offense got going as Wilson improved.
Even if Harvin is fine, that doesn’t change what the Seahawks expect of Tate. They added Harvin to make the offense more explosive, not to replace a starter, and if this really is a championship-caliber team, they’ll need everybody contributing, not just the splashy new acquisition.
“He’s a tremendous football player,” Carroll said. “It did take him a while just to catch on to the whole expectations of what it takes to play here. It was never because he wasn’t talented. It was never because he wasn’t a good athlete or any of that type of stuff. It just took him a while. A year ago he fit in ways where he fit in early in the season when we made the decision to make him really make the plays and give the ball to him and make him be the factor as we did with he and Sidney. We have no hesitation to feature him and get him the football and all kinds of things with him. He is a very good football player. Right now it’s all ahead of him. He is just kind of getting started in a sense, but I think we got a fine player.”
For Tate, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, producing, and also showing a good attitude if the catches aren’t coming every game, could help him land a big contract, be it in Seattle or somewhere else. And with Rice owed $17.5 million in base salary in the last two years of his deal (2014 and 2015), and with Harvin making as much as he will between now and the end of his deal, it’s entirely possible that Tate, not Rice, Seattle’s big signing in 2011, could have the longer future here.
Watch Tate and his girlfriend pall around with Wilson and his wife after practice, or listen to Carroll rave about Tate again and again, and tell me both sides don’t want to see him stay around on a long-term basis. Yes this is a business, and Tate has to prove he can build off of last year and not regress.
If it were all about keeping around the guys the coach and quarterback like, Tate would have a new deal already. We’ve all seen friendships take a backseat to dollars and salary cap space in this game time and time again. But if Tate is productive and healthy again this season, he could sign an extension in the offseason and end up having the longest future in Seattle of any of the current receivers.
It’s an easy scenario to picture when you see Tate leap and outmuscle the very physical Brandon Browner for a pass on the sideline. Then again, a bright future was easy to see when he made similar plays three years ago. The difference, of course, is that we’ve now seen it in games.
“Golden is spectacular,” Wilson said. “He’s a really important player.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.