Just a year removed from being called one-half of the best duo at running the ball in the league, former Houston Texans second-round pick Ben Tate is at a crossroads. After being unable to stay on the field and eventually finding himself third on the depth chart, Tate posted only 279 yards on 65 attempts that resulted in just two touchdowns in 2012.
Even after Tate was deemed healthy enough to return to the field, it seemed as if he had cemented his place on the sideline for the remainder of the season. Arian Foster posted a career high in carries, mostly due to Tate missing time, and Justin Forsett wasn’t quite the guy to pick up the workload.
There have been whispers and rumors about Tate and his work ethic, or lack thereof, but nothing is known for sure. Him not even being fully dressed, despite being active, for the Texans in their last playoff game speaks volumes to where he was at in the opinion of the coaching staff. So to call this year, a contract year, his make or break time would be an understatement.
I’ve been very vocal about my displeasure with the coaching style of Gary Kubiak since he arrived in Houston. But if a player is being insubordinate, well, then there was no other choice but to bench the guy. However, if Kubiak was just being stubborn, why drive down the value of a player who was rumored to be getting first-round draft pick compensation in return just year ago? No one knows the real truth, but the fact remains that the team couldn’t get anything worthwhile if they try to move him now.
So, what does Tate need to do to get back on the field and be a valued part of the squad in 2013? First and foremost, hopefully he worked on his conditioning this summer. The guy seemed not to be capable of running two yards without pulling or spraining something last year. You can’t make the team from the tub.
Next, he needs to bust his butt in training camp as if he is a rookie who is trying to make the team. For as much grief as I give Kubiak, he is a no-nonsense guy in practice, and I respect that. If you don’t practice well, you don’t get on the field. Tate needs to hit training camp as if it were the Super Bowl.
Finally, just do whatever it is your coach tells you to do. That means no more taking shots on twitter or being a (rumored) locker room distraction. Focus on football and football only. If Tate is worried about his contract situation, the best way to resolve that is to regain his 2011 form, and the money will take care of itself.
I still believe that Tate can be the difference in this offense. In 2011, the Texans’ running game was dominant because they had two guys who complimented each other so well. If Tate has another year like last season, Kubiak may just run Foster into the ground with another 350-plus carries.
Regardless of what happens with Tate, the team is going to have some decisions to make at the end of the season when he hits free agency. Foster will have another year of wear and tear on his tires, and even though the scheme makes the runner in this system, no one else currently on this roster seems to have the ability to do what Tate can do in it.
As fans, the most we can hope for is that the team wants to keep him when he hits the market. Because if it’s just a collective shrug, a repeat of 2012 is the likely result.