RENTON – Rookie Golden Tate will be in the starting lineup for the Seattle Seahawks for the first time Sunday .
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Notre Dame product will be the team’s starting punt returner.
It’s a big step for Tate, who was inactive for Seattle in the team’s season opener against San Francisco on Sept. 12.
But Tate made the most of his opportunities against Denver on Sunday, returning a punt 63 yards to put Seattle in scoring position and hauling in a 52-yard reception.
Tate found himself in the game fielding a punt in the second half after rookie Walter Thurmond muffed a punt that Denver recovered deep in Seattle territory, leading to the Broncos’ first score.
The Seahawks had tried Justin Forsett, Thurmond, Leon Washington and Tate as punt returners during training camp. But Tate, who played baseball in college, looked the most natural fielding the high punts in the sun, something Carroll noticed.
“We can’t afford to take him out of there,” Carroll said. “Obviously, one of the big returns proved that again, but he’s a great catcher and has great ability to make decisions back there as well. So we’ll stay with him.”
Tate’s always had the ability. He is second in Notre Dame history with 4,130 all-purpose yards, showing elusiveness in returning punts and kicks for the Fighting Irish. But in exhibition season play, Tate never flashed that ability while returning punts for the Seahawks.
Part of the issue was confidence. Tate had struggled in learning the precise route running required in a pro-style offense and had fallen down the depth chart heading into the regular season, which was why he landed on inactive list Week 1.
But heading into the Denver game, Carroll decided to get Tate more involved because wide receiver Mike Williams had a thigh injury.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said Tate got his shot and took full advantage.
“He showed up as a punt returner and also as a wide receiver,” Hasselbeck said. “So it’s been my experience when you show up in practice, you get plays in games. And when you show up in the game, you continue to get more plays in the game.
“He didn’t have that many plays, but even the short go route that we threw to him on the left hand side, that was just sort of a, ‘Hey, he just made a play. Let’s see if he can make another one.’
“And that’s kind of what happens.”
Carroll said that Ben Hamilton has replaced Mike Gibson at left guard. Hamilton started and played the entire game against Denver. … Linebacker Leroy Hill suffered a strained calf muscle against Denver and is wearing a protective boot. … Carroll said rookie offensive tackle Russell Okung will begin running on land this week, and if all goes well, he could begin practicing next week. Okung has been out with a high ankle sprain since the second exhibition game Aug. 21. … Williams finished with one catch for 7 yards against Denver, and did not play very much because of concerns with his thigh injury.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks