There's more to playing wide receiver than running fast.
Golden Tate learned that lesson the hard way last season, making a cameo appearance against Purdue with three dazzling catches for 104 yards and an acrobatic touchdown. Unfortunately for the 5-foot-11, 195-pound sprinting dervish, there was never an encore as Tate made just three catches in the season's final seven games.
Now the sophomore believes he's ready for a second act. Memorizing his lines should help. Tate doesn't shy away from the fact that too often last season he ran around like a receiver with his playbook cut up.
"Last year I was overloaded mentally," Tate said. "I felt like the game was moving too fast for me. I would break my routes off five or six yards too early just because everything was happening so fast. I didn't know what was going on."
Fans clamored for Charlie Weis to insert Tate into Notre Dame's misfiring passing game, but the receiver understood why he remained rooted to the bench. Tate considered himself an unreliable cog in the Irish offense. If it wasn't a go route, Tate wasn't comfortable running it.
"It's hard to put a guy in when you don't know what he's going to do in a close situation," Tate said. "I feel like the coaches have more confidence in me now."
That's one read Tate's made correctly.
"He's head and shoulders above where he was last year at this time," Weis said. "He's much more dependable, he looks more like a receiver who knows how to be a receiver, not just a guy that runs fast."
What that means to Notre Dame's offense this season remains up for debate, although the Irish figure to use Tate in multiple ways if the sophomore's video library is any indication. The Hendersonville, Tenn., product said he watches film of Rocket Ismail, Reggie Bush and Steve Smith, with the Carolina Panthers receiver someone Tate wants to emulate on the field.
During last week's practices Tate worked his way into the intermediate passing game and even took a few handoffs on end-arounds. Tate will take whatever touches he can get.
"It's something to keep the defense on their toes," Tate said. "I love getting the ball handed off to me anytime I can. I try to take advantage of it and try to make the play last as long as I can."
Taking handoffs should come as naturally to Tate as running go routes considering he lined up in the backfield for Pope John Paul II High School, running 140 times for 1,413 yards and 23 touchdowns to go with 28 catches for 510 yards and another six scores during his senior year. Success came so easily for Tennessee's Mr. Football that he figured it would naturally extend into his college career.
"Last year I came in and I thought I'd run some routes, catch the ball, block every now and then and it would be simple," Tate said. "I got here and I had to learn specific depths you have to run the routes, certain techniques you use, sight adjustments, picking up the blitz … it was really frustrating."
But that's made it rewarding for Tate as he now walks to the line of scrimmage and understands the view. Instead of locking himself into a route, now Tate can read the defense and "convert" the route if needed. No more breaking off patterns five yards prematurely.
"Right now he's doing a hell of a lot better," said David Grimes. "We all know Golden has great speed, but he's improved most in his route running and using his hands at the line of scrimmage."
Which means the sophomore now has a grip on the Irish offense.