Ravens add Tate, corner and return specialist

Bringing Robert Tate to Baltimore thickens the Ravens' plot at cornerback, the return game and bolsters the coverage units. By signing the former Minnesota Viking on Thursday to a one-year veteran minimum contract the Ravens created competition for ailing cornerbacks Gary Baxter and James Trapp. Because Tate averaged 25.1 yards per kickoff return in 1999, he also could push Javin Hunter and Lamont Brightful in that area.

Opinions are slightly mixed around the league about the impact of Tate's acquisition.

While Tate is extremely fast and athletic, some scouts question if Tate is an upgrade or just another Carnell Lake.

"The guys they have now are better that Tate is. They may not have his wheels or health, but he's not as good as they are," said an NFC North scout. "If the Vikings had Baxter or Trapp the last two years, either guy would have started…think about it. "It was the secondary that killed the Vikings the past three years and Tate was part of that. He wasn't good enough to start for most of last year."

Another scout had a differing view.

"Tate's an athlete. Flat and simple," said the scout. "And for the minimum, at this late date, what more can you ask for? "Best case, he'll grab a starting position. Worst case, is he returns some kicks and plays in extra packages.

"So, the Ravens can't lose in this."

Tate is 5-foot-10, 193 pounds and has started 22 games in the last two seasons. He was a sixth-round pick of the Vikings in the 1997 NFL Draft. He was the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year and Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year in 1995 at Cincinnati.

 Tate's familiarity with Ravens coach Brian Billick and special teams coordinator Gary Zauner makes this an interesting fit. Not to mention Tate is a native of Harrisburg, Pa.

 "It's a great chance for me," said Tate, 28, who intercepted two passes with 58 tackles in 2000. "I feel like I needed a new start and this is the perfect fit for me, I think. I'm just going to go out there hungry and be ready to compete.

"I think the sky is the limit."

Tate said he would play against the Philadelphia Eagles Friday night at Veterans Stadium. He said he didn't know the defensive scheme, so he would likely just cover some kicks.

Tate was released by the Vikings on Tuesday because they went with younger players. He lost his starting position to Eric Kelly last year.

Tate is in his sixth season.

 "Just a numbers game," Tate said of his release. "It's a business and it's what they want. They said they wanted younger guys and they got them."

Tate said he also considered the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and a few other teams.

He said he isn't in Baltimore to sit on the bench, but insisted he wasn't here to take anyone's job, even though that could happen.

"I'm coming in here to try to compete, but they have their guys in the lineup," Tate said.

Billick cited Tate's veteran experience.

"He fills a lot of voids for us," Billick said.

Jaymes Powell contributes to this report.

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