The fine-tuning of the Bengals 53-man roster turned into a major revision Sunday when they traded steady for sizzle and claimed off waivers one of the NFL's top kick returners in New England wide receiver Brandon Tate.
But it also translated into the toughest of cuts when the Bengals released wide receiver Quan Cosby to make room for Tate after two seasons Cosby became the club's all-time leading punt returner with a 10-yard average on 70 returns.
Throw in 40 fair catches and the reliable, classy Cosby, a former Angels baseball farmhand, never fumbled. But while Cosby never took one all the way in the NFL, Tate took two kickoffs for touchdowns last year, including a 97-yarder against the Bengals on Opening Day. Although he's only returned one NFL punt for four yards, it looks like he'll be asked to do it here and he says he's ready.
"Whatever the team wants me to do, I'm willing to do it," Tate said shortly after he found out he was coming to Cincinnati. "We'll see when I get there."
Two other moves also forced in-and-outs. The Bengals claimed Eagles center-guard Mike McGlynn and cut backup center Reggie Stephens while claiming Dolphins tight end Mickey Shuler and cutting third-year tight end Chase Coffman.
They also put together their practice squad with one missing because they had planned to sign seventh-round pick Korey Lindsey but he was claimed by the Cardinals and former Bengals safeties coach Louie Cioffi, now the Arizona secondary coach. The Bengals may be trying to get Stephens there if he clears. The big surprise is that 2010 third-rounder Brandon Ghee did clear waivers, so they were able to put him on the squad, perhaps proving that it isn't only the Bengals that don't have enough film to evaluate him. The rest of the practice squad:
FB James Develin (first-year player; Brown), LB DeQuin Evans (rookie; Kentucky), CB Brandon Ghee (second year; Wake Forest), WR Andrew Hawkins (rookie; Toledo), QB Dan LeFevour (second-year player; Central Michigan), T Matthew O'Donnell (rookie; Queens, Canada), DT Jason Shirley (second-year player; Fresno State).
But the move of the day was clearly the addition of Tate, the 6-1, 195-pound playmaker that finished sixth in the NFL in kick returns last season with a 25.8-yard average. Along with torching the Bengals, he also went for 103 against the Dolphins. But the Bengals are also intrigued by what he could give them as a receiver.
As the Pats' third receiver last year, he averaged 18 yards per his 24 catches and scored three touchdowns. The Bengals haven't had that kind of TD-catch ratio since Chris Henry. And last year turned out to be Tate's first full year since his rookie year was limited to two games with two knee injuries.
The first one, a bad ACL tear in his final year of an All-American career at North Carolina, dropped him into the third round, where the Patriots took him. Tate missed the first six games on PUP as he recovered from the original injury, but came back last year to play in every game with 10 starts.
During this training camp Patriots head coach Bill Belichick questioned the value of returners and cover guys with the kickoff getting moved up to the 35-yard line, anticipating the number of chances getting cut in half. Plus, reports out of Foxboro had second-year receiver Taylor Price moving by Tate on the depth chart.
But Tate learned well from Belichick and didn't throw out many words in his conference call.
"Whatever rules you get, you have to use them. I wasn't worried about it. I was just worried about going out and doing my job," said Tate, who ended up here, in some small way, because of the Bengals trading Chad Ochocinco just before camp and adding to the numbers game.
"It was fun," he said of The Ocho. "That's all behind me. I'm ready to move forward with the Cincinnati Bengals."
No doubt Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons is aware of Tate's work on punt returns while at North Carolina. Tate had a 10.6-yard average on 79 returns that included three touchdowns when he was at Chapel Hill.
Other potential punt returners for the Bengals are wide receivers Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell, but they have virtually no experience doing it in the regular season.
In the 6-4, 315-pound McGlynn the Bengals get a guy that can play guard as they seek depth for the Bobbie Williams four-game suspension, but he started 14 games and in the playoffs last year for the NFC East champion Eagles at center before sixth-rounder and University of Cincinnati center Jason Kelce beat him out this camp. Before McGlynn got cut he played center, guard and tackle Thursday night against the Jets.
A fourth-rounder out of Pittsburgh in 2008, McGlynn, 26, an Ohio product via Austintown, played three games as a rookie and missed all of 2009 before he replaced injured center Jamaal Jackson early last season.
Bengals receivers coach James Urban, who spent the previous seven seasons in Philadelphia, offered a hearty endorsement.
"A good get. A tough versatile guy who played both guard and center for us," Urban said. "And the systems are pretty similar. He's going to be able to come in here and know what's going on pretty quickly."
Head coach Marvin Lewis wasn't tipping his hand on how the Bengals will replace Williams at right guard, although he did say fourth-rounder Clint Boling is an option.
The backup tight end position behind Jermaine Gresham looks to be in flux. The Bengals picked up the 6-4, 251-pound Shuler and with the release of Coffman the indications are that Shuler is the better blocker. A 2010 seventh-rounder out of Penn State taken by the Vikings, Shuler got waived and claimed by Miami, where he had two catches for 44 yards in six games last season.
Coffman, a third-round pick in 2009 out of Missouri, had the hands of an NCAA record-breaking tight end. But after coming in as a rookie slowed by a foot injury he never sold the coaches on his ability to block and had three catches for 30 yards in two seasons.
The Bengals could still be looking for a veteran here. With Gresham, Shuler and undrafted rookie Colin Cochart, that's a combined 21 NFL games.