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Brandon Tate hopes to win a job as New Orleans Saints returner

'I'm pretty comfortable because I've been (returning kicks) for a long time'


Few openings exist on the New Orleans Saints roster.

Sure, there'll be competition for backup spots on the offensive line, the starters at linebacker have yet to be determined and there's a shade of unknown at receiver beyond Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr.

But if you're looking for a gaping vacancy, try return man.

Which is why receiver Brandon Tate, who joined the Saints for training camp practice on Wednesday, has a realistic chance to stick at the positions. Because the numbers say that the positions could use a production boost.

"Our return game is kind of like The Bachelor right now," Coach Sean Payton said at the beginning of the week. "We have about 12 contestants. all with roses. We don't know who our returner is going to be. And if she doesn't like any of them we will bring in more."

Tate fits into "more," and he'll get his chance to woo.

Last season, New Orleans averaged 6.4 yards on 34 punt returns and 22.9 yards on 36 kickoff returns; the latter mark significantly was boosted by Alvin Kamara's 31.5-yard average on 11 returns. Two seasons ago, it was 9.6 yards on 23 punt returns and 16.5 yards on 28 kickoff returns. In 2015, 8.6 yards on 32 punt returns and 21.6 on 28 kickoff returns.

Enter Tate, a nine-year veteran who has had six seasons when he has averaged at least 8.9 yards per punt return (including 9.7 on 20 returns for Buffalo last year) and a stretch of seven seasons where his fewest kickoff return attempts was 18 and his lowest average was 22.1 yards.

The Saints would like nothing better than to discover some of the hidden yards in the kicking game, particularly now that the new league rules on kickoff coverage could make teams more apt to return.

"That's the first vision, his experience (as a returner)," Payton said. "His skill-set in regards to balance and getting under the ball, all of those things, he does pretty well."

Tate literally has had to hit the ground running. He was working out, staying in shape until the Saints called him in to take a look. New Orleans would be the fourth franchise for which he has played if he makes the roster, joining the Bills, Bengals and Patriots, and Tate knows that he's on the clock.

"There's no excuses," he said. "I'm getting out there just doing my job.

"Right now it's training camp, everybody is just competing for a job. Just take it one day at a time, one play at a time, just focus on myself and getting better every day."

But he's applying for a job that he has done before, which aids in the comfort level.

"I'm pretty comfortable because I've been doing it for a long time," Tate said. "But I'm in a new area, new environment, so I'm just trying to get used to everything and the coaches and all the players and go out there and compete.

"You've got to trust the 10 guys in front of you because without them, there wouldn't be a good returner. Just putting trust in your teammates and being on one accord."

Harmony will have to be developed quickly, but it's not as if Tate is a rookie. And it's not as if he doesn't understand urgency, or doesn't understand that excuses are intolerable.

"There are no excuses," he said. "I'm a veteran player, so I've just got to get out here, catch up as quick as I can and take it one play at a time, one day at a time."

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