Appearing for the first time around the locker room since suffering a season-ending injury in New York, O.J. Howard finally had a moment to reflect on his second year in the NFL.
Howard was on his way to a potential Pro Bowl season before the foot and ankle injury. It’s bittersweet, as Howard was understandably disappointed, but also optimistic about the steps he’s made along the way as a player.
“I made huge strides from year one,” Howard said. “So that was very encouraging to see, I got better in different areas that I wanted to improve in. Unfortunately it ended short, but I think that I improved a lot.”
Howard confirmed that he will not need surgery, and he hopes to heal in four to six weeks. What hurts Howard the most is all the hard work that has put in.
“It’s just kind of an unfortunate play in football with what happened with my leg and my foot,” Howard said. I wanted to finish the season of course, you work so hard all year long, it’s kind of disappointing.”
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Through it all though, Howard has chosen to focus on the positives of his promising season. His coaches believe he hasn’t yet scratched the surface.
At the production rate he’s at already, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s soon mentioned in the same regard as the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz.
“Every year, that’s my goal is to take another step in the direction of what I want to eventually become, the best player I can be,” Howard said. “I think if you continue to do that, you’ll get there, so this year was a positive step, it’s just unfortunate that it’s at the end of the season also.”
Even in one less game than other tight ends, Howard’s 565 receiving yards puts him at fifth in the league at that position, and his five touchdowns have him tied for the top four. What’s placed Howard behind some of his fellow tight ends is that they don’t have the other weapons on their team like Howard has had with players like Mike Evans, Adam Humphries, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin.
There’s only one ball to go around, and while Howard can be the focal point of the offense, there are times when the Bucs other talents get to shine. Howard is proud of his season, but when looking back on the 2018 year, he is most proud of all of his teammates.
“Just the way our team competed,” Howard said. “We started out 2-0, we had some losses, but our whole team, we kept fighting. Those guys are doing the same thing right now, like I said, the group of guys over there in the tight end room, we came in there ready to go to work every day in practice. We worked so hard, so that’s just something I’ll remember about this year, just the way we competed all year long.”
Bucs TE O.J. Howard
One reason for Howard becoming so endearing to teammates and fans is that his production didn’t slow down when either Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick was under center. Howard pointed to the hours in practice spent on building that timing with both, and looks forward to building more next year.
“I think that’s what you want, you want to be a guy that when anybody is at quarterback, they can trust you,” Howard said. “It just comes with practice and reps and repetition. It started with camp, just staying after practice and working with those guys, getting trust, and it rolled over into the season.”