August 15, 2014 at 1:00 am

'Little-man syndrome' motivates Lions receiver Golden Tate

Oakland, Calif. — A couple weeks ago in practice, Lions receiver Golden Tate fell on cornerback Darius Slay, and coach Jim Caldwell joked that the wide receiver can be a pain in the neck once in a while.

Caldwell’s funny wordplay was an accurate way to describe Tate’s game, though, because his all-around game gives defenses a hard time.

A key reason Tate has been successful early in his NFL career is his precise route running. Thus far in training camp, Tate has shown a knack for getting open, and he’ll regularly take an extra step in any direction at the top of his routes to gain extra separation.

“As a receiver, I think there’s a general rule that every route should look like a go,” he said.

“That’s what I try to work on. If I can sell a go on any route, I should be wide open based off my quickness to come back and set it down for any in route, out route, post or whatever.”

Tate’s hands have also helped him be a pain for opponents as he’s dropped just seven passes in his four-year career.

Tate also said he regularly will return trash talk if opposing cornerbacks initiate it.

“Any time someone starts talking a little bit, I’m going to open a little bit,” he said. “They never usually get in my head. I usually get in their head, which is, I guess, a win for me.”

He also gets in their heads with his game, and much of his motivation comes from being just 5-foot-10.

“I guess that’s just the little-man’s syndrome in me,” he said. “It’s a big man’s game, and I feel like the way I make my way is because I play so physical and I play bigger than I am.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out and met a group of people that said, ‘Oh, I thought you were a lot bigger than you really are.’ I take that as a compliment because I like to play this game like I’m 6-1, 6-2, especially being a receiver.”

Tate has had that edge since he’s been playing football, he said. As a high school running back, he thought it was necessary to play with an edge because the players tackling him were so much bigger than him.

Last season with the Seahawks, Tate ranked eighth among wide receivers with 520 yards after the catch. Playing running back taught him how to find running lanes, but he credits his competitiveness for his ability to create big plays.

“I guess just me being a running back in high school and having to deliver hits, run through the middle, really taught me how to play on the outside,” he said. “Cornerbacks usually aren’t as tough as the linebackers and safeties, so I kind of felt like I have an advantage after being groomed as a running back all my life until college.”

That “little-man syndrome” has helped him become regarded as one of the top blocking receivers in the league. Tate has been fined for two vicious blocks during his career, but he said he has a lot to work on as a blocker.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’m that great of a blocker, and there’s been so many times that I’ve been called out in the film room for not blocking the way I should,” he said. “I dial it up every now and then when I have to, and whenever they need me, I definitely get my blocks. But it’s something I want to get better at.”

Tate’s powerful blocks have drawn comparisons to former Steelers receiver Hines Ward. Ward is two inches taller than Tate, but they’re built similarly at about 205 pounds. Tate doesn’t think he’s worthy of the comparisons just yet, but he hopes to have a long, productive career like Ward, a Super Bowl MPV who played 14 seasons.

“A lot of people have compared me to Hines Ward, and there’s parts of it I see,” he said. “He’s a very tough guy, very physical, wasn’t the fastest, wasn’t the quickest, but he found ways to make plays in clutch moments, so I see myself similar in that manner.”

jkatzenstein@detrotinews.com

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Wide recever Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions catches a touchdown pass against the Oakland Raiders Friday. / Ezra Shaw / Getty Images