No. 2 hopefuls crowd PBS convention

Brandon Tate

In the city of Rob Portman, A.J. Green's next running mate is getting more play than any of Mitt Romney's potential No. 2 hopefuls.

The just-drafted Mohamed Sanu and all his TJ-ish traits? Another rookie, a burner from Cal with just the right name for the ticket, Marvin Lewis Jones? What about long, lean Armon Binns, the guy that couldn't be covered last year in practice? Or another West Coast candidate that got drafted late, last year's sixth-rounder Ryan Whalen, whose instincts and route-running have also been compared to Houshmandzadeh's seventh-round résumé?

And there's always a buzz about veterans that could storm the convention. What about former Texan Jacoby Jones, just cut from Houston and making the free-agent rounds?

But how about the guy that has played more NFL games than any receiver on this roster? The guy that has played in the most playoff games? The guy that has averaged more yards per catch than Green and was taken with the same 83rd pick as Sanu in the 2009 draft?

Brandon Tate.

He may be a Sarah Palin longshot on the outside, but not with the party regulars. Not with guys like wide receivers coach James Urban, backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, and defensive tackle Domata Peko. They are aware of him.

Peko? Peko worked out with Tate for six weeks before the Bengals could report to Paul Brown Stadium and he never saw him miss a day, rep or set. One of the strongest Bengals, Peko's eyes bulged when he saw Tate bench 365 pounds.

"For a receiver?" Peko asked. "He looks good."

Tate, who settled in Cincinnati after the season so he could get right to work, had been toiling in the gym even a month before that.

"I got going the week before the Super Bowl," Tate said as he got ready for Monday's workout at PBS. "I've been working on my footwork and I want to be in good enough shape to go six quarters. I'm excited. I'd have to say it's the best shape I've been (in the NFL). I'm healthy and I feel comfortable in the city and with my teammates."

It hasn't always been that way for the 24-year-old Tate, whose last college season at North Carolina was cut short by a bad ACL injury that had a lot of damage. He still left Chapel Hill as the NCAA record-holder for combined kick and punt return yardage that had been accomplished with what he says was 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

With the injury hanging over him, the Patriots took a third-round flier on Tate in 2009 knowing they'd basically have to redshirt him his rookie year and they did in playing him in just two games. He came out of the box in the 2010 opener to scorch the Bengals on a 97-yard kick return in Foxboro, but the intriguing things about that season are the 24 balls Tate caught from quarterback Tom Brady for an 18-yard average.

"He's played in the league and we're excited to see how he fits in with our offense now that he's been here," Urban said. "It's a much different offense than what he had in New England."

But now that he's been here for about eight months, Tate feels better about it. When the Bengals picked him up on waivers last year during the week of the opener, they were too immersed getting the guys they already had ready in offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's new scheme. Because of the lockout, they had only been in it a month themselves.

"His primary responsibilities were special teams; the return game and he did a great job there," Urban said. "Now we'll get a chance this spring to see him as a receiver and he'll get plenty of chances with Andy (Dalton)."

Tate will get his shot at No. 2. The résumé line for a No. 2 receiver is a guy that can play outside, is big enough with good enough hands to possess the ball and, ideally, has stretch-the-field speed. At 6-1, 195 pounds, Tate certainly showed a smattering of all those attributes last season when he set the Bengals single-season record with 543 yards on punt returns. He hasn't run the 40 since he hurt the knee, but he says he thinks he's probably still a 4.3.

"Whatever the team needs me to do, I'm fine with it," he said. "I'm just excited about the opportunity."

Urban knows how tough it is for rookie receivers to produce. He knows Green's 1,000-yard season was the first by a rookie in five years and his Pro Bowl the first by a rookie receiver in eight. Although Tate has only 24 NFL catches, Urban realizes he's been around the bigs for three seasons.

"Only a few guys make the jump right away," said Urban, ticking off the huge adjustments for rookie receivers. "It's route recognition, a broader playbook, demand for more precision and route discipline. At the collegiate level you can get away with things, like rounding off a release, that you can't get away with here. And you don't have the time to be creative like you do in college because of the pass rush. You've got to be in your spot now."

Indeed, the other rookie receiver who had success last season in a niche role as a slot receiver was already a pro veteran with two seasons in Canada, Andrew Hawkins.

Gradkowski says he'd play with any of these guys because they all have Green's non-diva traits.

"They're the kind of guys that want to be in the meeting room," Gradkowski said. "They're the kind of guys that are going to be reliable, that are always going to be in the right spot and if they're not, then they're going to work with you to get it right. There may not be a lot of experience, but there's a lot of willingness and talent."

The balloting for No. 2 begins, appropriately enough, on a Tuesday. May 22, the first day of the voluntary on-field workouts.

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