As the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp inches closer, the roster battles that will emerge begin to take shape. However, there are some of these battles that are currently being overlooked. This is not to say that they are not important—they just happen to transcend conventional battles.
What does that mean?
Well, the matchup that will be under the microscope here will be Onterio McCalebb—a cornerback—versus Brandon Tate—a wide receiver.
Why would these players be in a roster battle?
They both have the potential of earning a spot on the Bengals final 53-man roster due to their abilities as kick return specialists.
The first question that could be asked about these two players is, "Why are they on the bubble?"
McCalebb is an undrafted free agent out of Auburn who served as a running back throughout his collegiate career. He has a smaller frame, and durability becomes a concern at the NFL level. This is why the Bengals are attempting to convert him into a cornerback.
Corner is a deep position for Cincinnati, and McCalebb would be fighting for the sixth—and final—roster spot at that position. However, the Bengals seem to have a great deal of faith in the young player, calling in the team's all-time interceptions leader Ken Riley to talk to him (via Bengals.com).
Tate has been the incumbent return specialist for Cincinnati over the past two seasons. However, he has been known to make some poor decisions, which has led to some distrust from the Bengals faithful.
Tate, like McCalebb, will be fighting for the final roster spot in a very deep position—wide receiver. There is plenty of talent at this position currently on the roster. This will make things rather difficult for Tate—who failed at his attempt to be a reliable target in 2012.
Conventional wisdom for these final roster spots at deep positions suggest that these players must bring something else to the table if they are to make the roster. The sixth cornerback or sixth wide receiver will not receive much work during the regular season at their respective positions.
If either of these two players are to make the final roster, it will be solely as the Bengals kick return specialist.
Looking at some of the things these guys do well in the return game could help project the winner of this important—albeit overlooked—roster battle.
This is a kick return from Week 7 of 2012 versus the Denver Broncos. Tate fields this kick from the goal line and uses his burst to get up the field quickly.
He shows patience and allows his initial blockers to engage and create an alley before he hits his next gear.
Once he gets through the initial wave, he uses great vision to find the next alley through the bulk of the coverage unit. He accelerates quickly through the hole.
Once Tate is through, he ends up in a one-on-one situation in the open field. Beating this defender would instantly turn this return into a Bengals touchdown.
Unfortunately, Tate is taken down by the last defender, but does manage a nice 43-yard return and sets up the Bengals offense with some great field position.
It could be argued that McCalebb is in an easier situation here—this return takes place in college against Mississippi State. However, a returner must have special abilities if he is able to become a home run threat on any level. He takes this kick right at his own goal line.
Like Tate, McCalebb uses patience to allow his blocks to develop in front of him. Once he sees his lane open up, he accelerates quickly into the open space.
He is quickly ahead of all of his blockers and could find himself in some danger here. He is surrounded by defenders and looks to be taken down for about a 40-yard gain.
Surprisingly, McCalebb hits another gear and speeds past the defenders into the open field. His vision is phenomenal and allows him to take the correct angle to evade the trailing defenders.
It turns into a footrace beginning at the 40-yard line. This is where McCalebb shines. He is a player that is almost impossible to catch from behind when he hits his top speed in the open field.
He beats the rest of the coverage team easily and turns this return into a 100-yard touchdown for Auburn.
Take a look at the entire return here.
These two players have similar skill sets, but play two entirely different positions. These are the types of positional battles that make training camp so intriguing. Luckily, this is just one of the many battles that will be in the national spotlight through the cameras of HBO's Hard Knocks.
Brandon Tate kick return screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.