GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 5: Wide receiver Wesley Tate #24 of the Vanderbilt Commodores rushes upfield against the Florida Gators November 5, 2011 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Few players embody the Commodore spirit quite like Wesley Tate does. After spending his first two years in Nashville as a power back, he selflessly made the switch to wide receiver to accomodate a stacked Vandy backfield. In 2012, he'll look to make his mark as an elite slot receiver for the 'Dores.
Tate came to Nashville as a local recruit with a high level pedigree. The Pope John Paul II standout is the younger brother of current Seattle Seahawk and former Notre Dame All-America wide receiver Golden Tate. As a three-star high school player, he settled on the Commodores over offers from schools like Stanford, Purdue, and Georgia Tech.
Tate redshirted his freshman year thanks to the emergence of two other young backs - Zac Stacy and Warren Norman. While the pair made a formidable platoon in the Vandy backfield, Tate's size and pass-catching abilities gave him an extra dimension that the two lacked. However, the injury bug that made Gaston Miller a number-one tailback for a SEC team cut down Tate midway through a strong 2010 season, limiting both his effectiveness and his carries during Robbie Caldwell's brief stint as head coach.
James Franklin came in to replace Caldwell, and he shook up more than just the culture at Vanderbilt. One of his first personnel moves off the recruiting trail was to move Tate to a position where he could contribute more to the Commodores. Vandy had unrest at wideout after the 2011 season. Veterans John Cole and Udom Umoh were hard workers but inconsistent performers. Freshmen Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause were talented but untested. Tate was added to Vanderbilt's stable of receivers to add depth and stability to a unit that had lacked that since Earl Bennett left Nashville for the NFL.
Tate made an immediate impact in the slot position, earning snaps early in the season and developing a rapport with quarterback Jordan Rodgers as 2011 wore on. Though he finished the season with a modest output (22 receptions, 187 yards), he became a versatile short-range weapon on a team filled with deep threats. Franklin's modus operandi at Maryland was to call plenty of bubble screens to utilize his receivers around the line of scrimmage and let them break plays open from there. Who better to do that than a former tailback?
"Jack of Two Trades" isn't meant to be an insult to Tate. He could probably line up at safety tomorrow and reel off some impressive plays. Hell, with this team's depth problems at linebacker in 2011, I'm a bit surprised that James Franklin didn't lock him in the weightroom for a month and see if he could match up with Archibald Barnes on defense. He's a versatile player who could make an impact at almost any position on the field.
But Tate has displayed two separate skills that have made him an above-average football player in the SEC. He's a powerful running back with solid speed and he's a capable possession receiver who isn't afraid to stick his neck out over the middle of the field. While Tate is unlikely to garner much All-SEC support, he'll be a key piece in the Commodore attack. With Brandon Barden graduated, he's going to be Rodgers's safety valve - a big target who can catch the ball near the line of scrimmage and then rip off yards after the catch.
Wesley Tate won't be the most visible Commodore receiver, but he'll still be one of the most important. He will fill a leadership role at a position stocked with young talent, and provide a bruising presence in the midst of some finesse players. James Franklin has proven that he loves gadget plays, and with Tate and Josh Grady on board, he'll have more flexibility than ever before when it comes to giving the ball to playmakers.