For much of the season O.J. Howard’s use has been questioned, and arguably so. His abilities as a blocker are elite for his position, but when you select a tight end at 19th in the draft you’re selecting him to be a game-changer, a downfield weapon, a guy like George Kittle, Greg Olsen or Jimmy Graham.
Through six games Howard has been targeted just 18 times, bringing in 13 receptions for 176 yards. In three of those games Howard has fewer than three receptions and he’s eclipsed 35 yards receiving just once.
“Part of it’s game planning, part of it’s opportunities in the game,” Bruce Arians said on Wednesday. “And he’s got to catch them, he dropped two balls last week. That hurts. Seeing a [hot read], catching it and getting 15 yards is big but the other thing is opportunities. A lot of the stuff that we’ve had for him in the red zone just hasn’t happened. We go into the game with 100-something plays and the game dictates what happens sometimes. Part of the time, what we have game planned for him, they take away.”
Wide receiver Mike Evans emphasized the effort that defenses have made to try and neutralize the dangerous tight end.
“Just keep going, he’s a hell of a player,” Evans said. “In one-on-one, nobody can really stop him. The teams have been doing a good job of keying in on me and him as well but we just got to do what we can to get O.J. the ball. He’s one of our best players on offense and I think we can get him the ball a little bit more.”
Quarterback Jameis Winston was also asked on Wednesday about what defenses have done to limit Howard’s damage and, like an echo through One Buc Place, talked about the factors that have gone into his lack of production.
“I can see that they get a lot of hands on O.J.,” Winston said. “O.J.’s been in a lot of positions where he’s attached to the line of scrimmage so every chance they get they’re whacking him, they’re getting their hands on him and trying to slow down his tempo. We’re going to get O.J. the ball… it’s going to happen.”
Howard isn’t worried about his usage though, he’s used about his impact. When asked, he was focused on doing whatever he could to help the team and not just in the form of catching passes.
“What happens happens,” Howard said. “I’m just here to play ball, I’m an NFL player. I want to succeed and whatever that is, that’s my job.”