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.
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
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.