A pleasant surprise for the Bucs over the past two weeks has been the play of tight end O.J. Howard in the passing game. Howard has seen a significant increase in snaps following Rob Gronkowski’s injured ribs in Week 3. The results as a blocker haven’t been great, but Howard is starting to make waves as a receiver.

On Thursday night against Philadelphia, Howard had six catches for 49 yards and his first touchdown of the season. Howard played 49 snaps, his second-highest total of the year. That’s a positive sign that he’s working his way back from a season-ending Achilles injury in 2020. Still, head coach Bruce Arians believes Howard isn’t operating at full strength just yet.

“I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent where he was,” Arians said. “But he’s real close. I don’t know if his 40 time is the same as it was. We have all those tracking devices on them. I’m anxious to see how fast he was running last night. He’s hit a couple good ones in practice, about 18 miles per hour. So we’ll wait and see.”

Howard hasn’t been used as a vertical threat as much as he was a year ago, but he’s finding ways to produce anyway. The fifth-year tight end has been a factor after the catch and hasn’t dropped a pass this season. Howard’s 10 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown isn’t awe-inspiring, but he’s really only played many significant reps over the past three weeks.

“Juice is getting better and better,” Arians said. “He’s stepped up every week. This was by far his best game.”

It remains to be seen if Gronkowski will be back for Week 7 against the Bears. If the future Hall of Famer can’t go next Sunday, Howard would likely lead the Bucs tight ends in snaps.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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SaskBucs
SaskBucs (@saskbucs)
1 month ago

Didn’t read the article but no shit. Guy could barely run last night without tripping himself up. Howard before the injury would have gotten the 1st down easy on the play he got tripped up. His other TE screens would have gained an extra 10 -20 yards combined. His speed and power still looks sapped.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  SaskBucs
1 month ago

You obviously didn’t read the article. You’re full of shit.

drdneast
drdneast (@drdneast)
Reply to  Naplesfan
1 month ago

LOL. Some people.

Spitfire
Spitfire (@spitfire)
Reply to  SaskBucs
1 month ago

that play was more him getting ahead of himself worrying about the first down than him not being able to break the tackle. In any case no he isn’t quite 100% but still providing solid results in the meantime.

fredster
fredster (@fredster)
Reply to  SaskBucs
1 month ago

Dumb comments. The dude stiff armed two guys like little bitches. The third stiff arm worked as well but that defender just got enough of his ankle to trip him. No power? Tripped himself? Your an idiot. Watch the game moron.

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1 (@aredsoxfan1)
1 month ago

Great to see him rounding into form. He’s not quite there but getting closer. When Gronk gets back we need someone to take carry some of the load so Gronk can be healthy for the playoffs.

bucballer
bucballer (@bucballer)
Reply to  aredsoxfan1
1 month ago

Crucial right? OJ will need help manage the load with Gronk when he returns. Gronk just gives up his body to make a play. He really takes a beating out there sometimes. There’s no reason OJ can’t come into the game and produce while giving Gronk a blow.

scubog
scubog (@scubog)
1 month ago

Maybe we can now pause on the “trade O.J.” talk.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  scubog
1 month ago

You mean he’s not a “bust” as some of the commenters have claimed all season?

Apparently none of those yahoos have ever experienced a ripped achilles tendon that had to be surgically repaired and reattached.

drdneast
drdneast (@drdneast)
Reply to  scubog
1 month ago

Hear that but now everyone wants to trade away RoJo. You don’t trade away your depth. If Lenny goe out for a few weeks what then. Besides there has to be a market for the product. With OJ and RoJo’s contracts ending this year it’s not likely there is a big market for a half season player.

scubog
scubog (@scubog)
Reply to  drdneast
1 month ago

It’s always comical when folks make a comment that is based more on their perceived narrative than what actually occurred in the game. The best was when someone criticized Winfield’s poor play in the Eagles game when #31 was sitting in his living room watching the game like the rest of us.

Reminded me of the time in 6th grade when the kids were all standing in the cafeteria line and the teacher yelled, “Scubog shut up” to which the kids replied, “Ms Swearingin, Scubog isn’t in school today”. I hear the story every reunion.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
1 month ago

Interesting how Ledyard and others criticize Howard’s blocking – yet he played virtually every snap, mostly doing blocking duty, as part of a group that allowed zero sacks and produced our best rushing performance of the season so far. It is pretty obvious that our run blocking had a lot to do with our rushing production. That does not compute – that a key blocker always on the field every offensive snap, a member of the blocking group the produces the best blocking performance of the season is somehow a poor blocker. Similarly stupid criticism was leveled at Cappa for… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Naplesfan (@naplesfan)
Reply to  Naplesfan
1 month ago

I recall just a year ago, a very large proportion of both PR commenters and media writers and talking heads were declaring Gronk a bust, a “shoulda stayed retired” guy all washed up, “lost a step”, etc. etc. It got so bad that in a media Q&A Gronk declared that the reason he wasn’t catching a lot of Brady passes to that point was because his number one job as a tight end was to block, and he thought he was doing OK in that regard. The fans and media talking heads all guffawed and shook their heads. And then… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast (@drdneast)
Reply to  Naplesfan
1 month ago

That was a Gronk joke and also a comment that the team had a lot of good receivers who were getting the ball. I think at his age Gronk is very happy not to be the No. 1 target and getting all those hits. In the meantime it seems like both Brady and Gronk are having the time of thier football lives playing under BA. Both are always smiling and doing a lot more clever funny commercials. “Mom, have you seen my football pants,” is great.

Dman
Dman (@dman)
1 month ago

Pretty much spot on, Jon. OJ looks to be coming along a little bit each week. The Achilles is a tough injury. I’ve never been a fan of his, but I’m rooting for the guy to come back.

drdneast
drdneast (@drdneast)
Reply to  Dman
1 month ago

Well said.

fredster
fredster (@fredster)
1 month ago

He looked good overall. The play where he tripped was defender making a great play. That defender was almost the third one to get stiff armed by Howard. The other two he planted in the ground. Fun to watch. I never said trade Howard as Gronk is not young and can get hurt. The Bucs will have lot tough decisions next year though for sure.

bucballer
bucballer (@bucballer)
1 month ago

I think OJ is a good TE. The question is can he become a great TE? I believe he can. He’ll need to finally put it all together, pass blocking, run blocking, and pass receiving. Hope he continues to get a little better each game as his confidence increases. We need him! Gronk is getting older and OJ is on a contract year. Does he even want to stay and play in Tampa? I would think the chance to receive balls from the GOAT would be motivating enough. We just don’t know what OJ thinks his worth will be upon… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast (@drdneast)
Reply to  bucballer
1 month ago

Therein is the problem OJ was drafted mid round with a No. 1 pick and projected immediately to be a star and a game changer by the “media.” That hasn’t been the case due to an inury riddled career. That is not a knock on OJ just the facts. He is a good solid TE but not in the great catergory. He was built up by the media, especially locally, to be something maybe he never was. Not his fault.

drdneast
drdneast (@drdneast)
1 month ago

Howard is doing fine. I have been the first to jump on his case due to his extended vacations on IR but at the same time they were legit. He’s coming apong fine and looks good. Hope it continues.

scubog
scubog (@scubog)
Reply to  drdneast
1 month ago

After watching O.J. Howard in college and recognizing his unique ability, I was thrilled when he was drafted. He has shown those skills from time to time, but it seems as soon as he starts getting into a flow, he gets injured. Of course, here in Bucville some people blame the player and offer no quarter in their criticism. I can’t imagine the outcry if the favorite “whipping boy” Donovan Smith were to get hurt. Maybe they would cheer like they did when QB Gary Huff laid on the turf. I’m looking forward to seeing #80 being utilized more and… Read more »