Sure, as a left tackle Wesley Johnson gets excited about a pancake block that opens a window for his tailback.
But what really thrills the Vanderbilt senior this year is the opportunity to watch running back Wesley Tate burst into the open field.
“I’m waiting for him to break a long run in one of these games,” Johnson said, “so the public can see how fast he actually is and stop classifying him as just a big back.”
At 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, Tate fits the bruising back mold. But his coaches and teammates say he is much more than a short-yardage back. The Hendersonville native and Pope John Paul II grad, expects to get more snaps to prove them right.
“I have the speed to do it,” he said. “I have the agility to make a guy miss. I think you’ll see a lot more of that this year. It is definitely important to get chunk yards. Any times you get big plays it is just momentum for the offense and it is always great getting close to the end zone.”
He scored eight touchdowns in 2012 but all but two came from inside the 10-yard line. The senior will get more chances to break off the big play with all-time leading rusher Zac Stacy now with the St. Louis Rams.
Tate has just 150 carries his first three years (he was used a wide receiver in 2011). He rushed 107 times last year for the second-most behind Stacy’s 207 carries.
For his career, Tate has averaged 3.7 yards a carry. Despite breaking off at least one run of more 20 yards every season, long runs have been few. He punished Massachusetts last year with a career-long run of 25 yards. He also set career-highs that day in rushing yards (81) and carries (15).
“Wes Tate is one of the bigger, stronger, faster running backs in the country – there is no doubt in my mind,” coach James Franklin said. “He has to put it all together and transfer it to on the field, which he showed in flashes in his career. You’d like for this to be one of those storybook situations where it all comes together for him.”
Offensive coordinator John Donovan is eager to see how Tate handles a bigger workload if he indeed does win the starting running back job over Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour.
Stacy turned into a workhorse his last two seasons with 408 carries and eight games with more than 20 rushes. Franklin has mentioned the running back duties might be divvied up until someone merges as the true frontrunner. Donovan said on Tuesday night, after the first preseason practice in full pads, he is unsure how many carries he wants the starting tailback to average.
“Just being able to handle the amount of reps a guy like Zac took,” Donovan said. “If [Tate] he is going to be that guy he needs to perform when he is tired, not just perform when he is fresh. That will be interesting to see. That is his biggest challenge as far as taking his game to the next level and I think he has a chance to do that.”
On Tuesday night, though, failing to convert a short run in a goal-line situation left Tate frustrated.
As much as he wants to be improve his identity as a big-play back, he’d rather be known as a reliable rusher.
“I want to be defined as an every-down back who can get the fourth-and-one and a guy who can break for 90,” he said. “I just want to be every situational back that can make any play. That is my goal.”