By Joe Kay
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI — The Bengals released receiver Brandon Tate — the franchise leader in punt returns — as part of their moves to reach the 75-man roster limit on Tuesday, leaving room for a rookie to take the job.
Undrafted rookie Alex Erickson impressed during the preseason, with an 80-yard touchdown among his four punt returns. Second-round pick Tyler Boyd also returned a couple of punts, one of them for 24 yards.
The Bengals want someone to take over the bulk of the punt returns duties so cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones can stay fresh for defense.
Erickson was a walk-on at Wisconsin and wasn’t drafted because of his limited experience, starting only two seasons in college. His impressive showing convinced the Bengals he could be counted on as a returner and an extra receiver, prompting them to release Tate.
“With what they’ve done — he and Tyler both as returners — gives us some options,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “Going in, we knew about Tyler, but we didn’t know how effective Alex would be.”
Erickson’s 80-yard touchdown return in the first preseason game against Minnesota got a lot of attention. He also has caught four passes for 33 yards and a pair of touchdowns in three games, showing he could fill the role of backup receiver.
“Not that Brandon lost it, but I think Alex earned that spot with his playmaking ability,” special teams coach Darrin Simmons said. “You saw it. Everyone was kind of surprised Week One. I was, too. And then it just kept happening week after week after week and there’s something there. I have a great deal of faith in him.”
Tate played in 80 games during five seasons with the Bengals, starting seven times. His main contribution was as a kick returner. He returned 149 punts for 1,411 yards, both club records. He also returned 145 kickoffs. The Bengals released him on Tuesday rather than waiting for the final cut over the weekend, giving Tate a better chance to catch on with another team.
“He’s meant a great deal to the football team,” Lewis said. “It’s one of the harder decisions we’ve had to make. It gives him, hopefully, a jump on another opportunity for this year.”
The Bengals finish the preseason on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts. They open on Sunday, Sept. 11 at the New York Jets.
In addition to releasing Tate, the Bengals made several moves with injured players.
— Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson went on the physically unable to perform list, but could be eligible to return after the sixth week of the season. Thompson suffered a knee injury in the final game last season.
— Rookie defensive tackle Andrew Billings went on injured reserve. He suffered a knee injury during practice on Aug. 10.
— Receiver Mario Alford was released. He suffered an ankle injury in the first preseason game. If nobody claims him off waivers, he’ll revert to the Bengals’ injured reserve list.
— Kicker Jonathan Brown was waived off injured reserve. He’d been sidelined by a foot injury.
The Bengals didn’t make a move with running back Cedric Peerman, who broke his left forearm on Sunday against Jacksonville. Peerman, the No. 4 running back, is one of their top special teams players and was picked for his first Pro Bowl last season.