by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
Bigger running backs get reputations as between-the-tackles guys who get a few yards up the middle and not much else. At 220 pounds, Ben Tate knew this perception of him going into the NFL combine, and he figured he’d do something about it.
The Auburn product cast aside that image by finishing at or near the top of six categories for running backs. He spoke with PD about the combine, playing in the SEC, and the diverse abilities he’s always had.
Well, I wanted to start out by saying congratulations on a great combine performance. I was wondering if you could talk about your workouts leading up to that, and how you feel about the results.
Leading up to the combine, I was just working really hard on the 40 and all those types of things that we were going to do there, as well as position drills. You know, I just worked my butt off. I had my goals set high, and I reached, pretty much, some of my goals, but not all of them. By the end of the day, I was pretty happy with what I did.
What were you most pleased with, and where were you maybe a little disappointed?
I’d say I was most pleased with my (40.5-inch) vertical. And I was a little disappointed with my (4.43-second) 40 time.
Had you been timed in the weeks leading up to that and done a little better?
Oh, yes. Yes, I had. Prior to the combine, I ran a little bit better than what I ran at the combine. So I was a little upset about that at first.
In terms of the months leading up to the combine, what did you feel your perception was – or the perception of you was – as a running back?
I think everyone had this perception of me as just being a big bruiser: I don’t have any moves, I’m not fast, maybe I can’t catch the ball. I think that was more (the) perception (of me), that I was just a big bruiser, when that’s really not so at all. You know, I have real speed to take to the defense, and I definitely can make people miss. I think I’ve shown that plenty of times this year past, my senior year… I also think I’ve shown that, when I’ve had the opportunity, that I can catch the ball well.
Talking about opportunities, I read just recently in a draft magazine that you’re the type of back who can’t make it to the outside – make it around the end. Obviously, based on your 40 time, that’s not true. Do you think your offense is maybe geared a certain way that makes you look like a certain kind of back?
I would say that that perception really comes from my junior year, being in that spread offense. A lot of our running was side-to-side, and if you’re in the backfield, you’re in a shotgun, you’re lined up on the opposite side. You know, coming all the way across the formation with the ball, trying to run outside, I mean, it’s the SEC. There’s not too many guys that’s really going to make that corner. I think that perception, you know, came from, definitely my junior year, when a lot of times I wasn’t really getting the corner because guys (were) already halfway there before I was. I think that’s really where that perception came from, a little bit. But this year, as you can see – and if you go back and look at my sophomore and freshman year – that I got the corner a number of times.
Also, do you think going up against SEC defenses every week has helped you, or hurt you?
I think it’s definitely helped me. I think it helps a big deal, that the defenses in the SEC are big and fast, and it’s a lot of the same guys that tend to be successful at the next level. You know, going against those guys week in and week out, I think it just better prepares you for the next level. I went to the Senior Bowl, and I was actually getting to practice against those guys. It’s just amazing to see how fast those guys move at practice and things like that. But then, once we got into the game, I mean, it was just like another SEC game because you’re going against the cream of the crop, but it seems like… after going against the SEC, the guys on the other side still maybe wasn’t as fast as some of those (SEC) guys. You know, I think it definitely can help me get ready for the next level.
Were you always looking at playing in the SEC coming out of high school?
For the most part, yes. For the most part I kind of wanted to play in the SEC, but at the same time, I still liked Maryland and Penn State, those schools that was close to home (in Maryland). But I still felt like I would have an advantage playing in a tough conference.
And what made you decide on Auburn?
Again, it being the SEC, going against the quality defenses week in and week out. And, you know, with the tradition of running backs that they have here at Auburn, I felt if I came out and I performed well in a tough conference, all I could do is just help my opportunity, better my chances of being at the next level.
In high school, you gained almost 6,000 yards in your career, and you averaged almost 11 yards a carry. Was there ever a point where you thought it was kind of easy?
Ah… it was, sometimes. Sometimes, it really was easy. (Laughs.) You know, I’d get to the point where sometimes I would make bets with my father: “I’ll bet you I score two touchdowns in the first quarter, or have 100 yards rushing in the first quarter.” Just little things like that, that still just kept me working hard and kept pushing me. But it wasn’t always like that. There was definitely a lot of tough games I had throughout my high school career. At the same time, there was times when I thought it was a little easy, but I still had to find a way to keep myself going hard, and not really bring my level of play down.
A lot of people might go through kind of a senior slump in high school, but you graduated early to attend spring practice at Auburn, is that right?
Yes, that’s correct.
And what was that like?
Oh, it was a great experience. Coming in, I was a young guy, and, you know, I had to work my way up to the top again. So, it definitely humbles you. And it gave me a little step on the other guys coming in at the same time as me.
What do you think NFL scouts should know about you that they might not see on film?
Just how much of a competitor I am, how much I love the game. Just, you know, my good overall character. I’ve never had any off-the-field problems. I’ve always made a pretty good impression. I think that’s important, too.
What running backs do you watch in the NFL? Do you try to emulate anybody’s game, or is there anyone who you like to watch in particular?
Oh, I don’t try to emulate anyone’s game at all. I think my game is a little bit different than most of the guys that you see in the NFL now. I have some similarities to some of the guys, but overall I think my game is a little different. But, you know, my favorite running back – definitely, I like to watch Adrian Peterson and LT. I like watching Chris Johnson, too, but I just know there’s no way I can do what he does: he’s just way faster than me. (Laughs.) He’s got a lot of speed.
Do you see yourself as more of kind of a grind-it-out, old-school back, or are you just leaving that wide open in terms of all of the things you’re able to do?
I like to leave it wide open, you know, because I think I can do it all. I think I can be a great pass-catcher out of the backfield. I’ve shown that plenty of times. I feel like I can be that guy that gets to the outside and runs inside, and at the same time, pick up – if the linebacker comes up – blitzes, like I’m a complete back. I think you have to be, especially in the NFL. You’ve got to have a complete running back. And I definitely think I’m a complete running back.
Do you think there’s any one thing you need to work on more than others?
Not really. I think you always can improve your game, so I’m always working to improve every aspect of my game, from the technique of pass protect all the way to quick feet, or just holding onto the ball. The little things. Always trying to improve the little things.
Did you get to talk to NFL teams at the combine or at your pro day?
Yes, I got to talk to a couple of teams at the combine.
Which ones in particular?
Oh, you know what? It’s really hard for me to remember right now. (Laughs.)
(Laughs.) I’m sure it must have been – was the combine experience just crazy?
Yeah, it was a little crazy, but at the same time, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so you kind of stay with the moment and go with the flow, and have fun at the same time.
And what are you going to be up to from now until the draft?
You know, just working out now, with a couple of team workouts, and things like that. Just working out with different teams, and going on visits maybe, and trying to stay in the best shape I can.
Do you have any team workouts scheduled as of now?
Do you want to say who they are?
No, I’d rather not.
All right, fair enough. Ben, thanks a lot for talking to us today. I appreciate it.
Email Chris Warner at [email protected]