Brandon Tate (with ball): A pro's pro
The Bengals made one of those hard moves minus the knocks before Tuesday morning's walk-through when they released wide receiver Brandon Tate, the franchise's all-time leading punt returner highly regarded in the locker room as a "pro's pro."
"I'm at a loss for words on that one," said cornerback Adam Jones, his return partner.
In order to get down to 75 players by Tuesday at 4 p.m., the Bengals also ended the rookie season of fourth-rounder Andrew Billings (knee) when they put the Baylor defensive tackle on injured reserve. They waived injured one draft pick, 2015 seventh-rounder Mario Alford (ankle), virtually ending the wide receiver's season. As expected, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (ACL) went on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and is eligible to return to practice week seven and the Oct. 23 game against the Browns.
They also waived kicker Jonathan Brown, but since he had been injured he didn't count and the Bengals are at 75 players heading into Thursday's pre-season finale (7:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Colts at Paul Brown Stadium.
One encouraging thing is they didn't put running back Cedric Peerman (fractured forearm) on injured reserve, but it's believed they're also still trying to sort out the medical possibilities before Saturday's final cut to 53.
Special teams coach Darrin Simmons said after the walkthrough there is hope that Peerman can return at some point during the season. It appears to be a simple fracture with no ligament damage, but he will need surgery. It's still up in the air if Peerman can make it back, but Simmons is crossing his fingers.
The move with Tate, 28 means the Bengals punt and kick return games undergo a major overhaul since he had been the primary returner for both after the Bengals picked him up on waivers in 2011 from the Patriots five days before the opener.
The move also seems to indicate that undrafted rookie wide receiver Alex Erickson, averaging an intergalactic 41.5 yards per punt return this preseason, is now sharing the job with Jones, one of the league's more lethal return men whose chances are limited by his Pro Bowl play at cornerback.
Simmons said Erickson is one of his two new kick returners along with running back Rex Burkhead.
While losing just one fumble in 153 punt returns, Tate had some memorable clutch ones in late, tight moments. The Bengals made the postseason in all five years of his run and he was a factor.
"He won a lot of games for us," Simmons said. "I have immense respect for him.
His 56-yard punt return for a touchdown came in the fourth quarter in Seattle during the 2011 season broke open a one-score game, giving him 186 total return yards and AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. In 2013 his 29-yard punt return in overtime put the Bengals at the Bills 33 and led to Mike Nugent's winning field goal. And in the game the Bengals clinched a 2014 post-season spot during a Monday Night Football game at Paul Brown Stadium, another fourth-quarter pop, a 49-yarder, put the ball on the Denver 22 to set up Nugent's field goal that put the Bengals ahead for good at 30-28.
While Tate became a magnet for fan criticism because of his 9.2-yard average per return, he was a favorite of special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons because of his decision-making when it came to fielding kicks and his sure handedness.
"A lot of big plays. He's a guy that's been essential to what we done over the last couple of years,' said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "A great example and leader for the guys. He'll be missed. He's a guy that helped us more than people realize."