Marcus Tate is honest. He’s open. He’s accountable.
Sure, he’s starting for one of the premier programs in the country, but you have to remember that he’s just a true freshman. He’s still learning at a position that doesn’t come naturally to him.
You could argue that he was thrown into the deep end a bit too early, but baptism by fire has molded him into the player he is now and the one he’s becoming.
He took a step back and he learned from his struggles and mistakes.
“For me, I thought it was necessary,” he said Tuesday. “Especially with the Georgia Tech game, I was not prepared for the defense that they put out and that’s something the defense that I’ve been struggling with all season in practice as well. I thought it was necessary for me mentally, because I thought, ‘Damn, I really gotta get my stuff together.’ I just try to make a positive impact out of it and since then, I think my practice habits have been better. I’ve been practicing way harder. And, my attention to detail has been increased because I don’t want to lose my spot and I don’t want them to question taking me out like that ever again.”
Tate was essentially benched for Clemson’s 27-21 double-overtime loss at N.C. State. After struggling mightily against the different looks that Georgia Tech showed Clemson defensively, the Tigers opted to start Paul Tchio against the Wolfpack.
While Clemson spent the week leading up N.C. State, defending the true freshman, he was quietly benched. Tate did appear in the game and hasn’t been benched since. As for Tchio, Dabo Swinney announced that he would be entering the transfer portal Tuesday.
Tate was by no means happy about the decision that knocked him out of the starting lineup, but he understood it and felt he needed to be able to take a step back and learn from some of the mistakes he made.
“I just try to take it as positive as it could be and just try to use it as motivation for me, more than just like this is the end of the world,” he said.
Tate was asked about his confidence against 3-4 man fronts and how he would analyze his play thus far.
“I still have a ways to go, for sure,” Tate said. “I wouldn’t say I got it down at all. But, I mean from Georgia Tech to Louisville and even Syracuse, I think there’s been an improvement in the way I’ve played 3-4 front. I’m getting better, but just playing in that space against the run is what’s bothering me.”
He attributed that to more or less his pad level being too high.
“I’m not nearly as comfortable as I should be or I want to be, but I’m working on it and I’m trying to practice every day, just getting better at it,” he added.
Tate is still getting comfortable at the guard position. He didn’t think the transition from tackle to guard would be as difficult as it has been for him, but he’s taking it all in stride.
“I’m not making any excuses,” Tate indicated. “There could be a million excuses for me to make for the transition at guard, but that won’t get me anywhere. So, I’m just trying to take all the challenges that I’ve had to face and attack them head-on.”
With that being said, what’s the biggest challenge Tate has faced during that positional transition?
“For me, it’s really the mental part,” he said. “Confidence has really been my issue since high school…I had finally got the confidence, especially when I had got here in the first spring, I really felt like I could do this thing at tackle. So, then I feel like I started all over at guard. I think that’s been my biggest struggle, which is confidence. Once I feel like I have the confidence, I’ll for sure be set.”
Swinney mentioned during Tuesday’s media availability that Tate has been cross-training at left tackle. Clemson’s offensive line depth is certainly dire, so the Tigers require players that can play multiple positions across the line, especially with Tchio leaving the team this week.
“I like it because I want to play tackle, of course,” Tate said. “Being able to cross-train in practice and getting reps, so I won’t get out of those habits of playing tackle and I don’t lose my comfortability, that’s why I like it. But, I think for me, I would like to focus more on guard because that’s what I’m playing in the game, but I do think I’m getting a lot out of it because we get new plays all the time and now I know both spots. I feel like I’m more valuable to the team if I know both positions. Hopefully, I get to show how good I am at left tackle because that’s where I’m really good at. I really feel like once I get these two positions down, you’re going to see how valuable of an offensive lineman I am.”
Speaking of valuable, Tate has been able to benefit from learning important lessons under the guidance of both Matt Bockhorst and Jordan McFadden.
“The biggest thing is mentality,” Tate said when asked what he’s been able to pick up from Bockhorst. “Matt’s obviously very aggressive and he’s been trying to instill that in me because that’s something that I needed since I made the transition and just playing football at this level, period. You know you need some type of aggression and dog level and he’s been putting that in me every day and just giving me the confidence to know that I can punish dudes. I have the ability to. You just gotta believe it. And, he’s been helping me believe that.”
Tate realizes that he’s still an immature player, but he’s benefitted from the likes of Bockhorst and McFadden constantly being in his ear. Even after Bockhorst tore his ACL, he’s constantly in Tate’s corner, coaching him up and giving him advice, which Tate couldn’t be more appreciative of, he said.
This has been a humbling experience for him, to say the least.
“I’m learning so much more on this level than I don’t think I could ever learn and it’s really just through all this adversity that I’m facing,” Tate added. “I didn’t know I was going to struggle this bad and I think this is the first time where football has been something like where, ‘Damn, this is hard.’ This is the real deal and I gotta pick it up. I gotta play better. I’m learning so much from it and on the mental side, that’s something I need to get better at is mentally being prepared and being confident…I’m learning so much from all the struggles I’m going through right now and next year, I can promise you. You’ll see the difference.”