All-Twenty Tuesday: Bucs TE O.J. Howard

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In this section I am going to highlight the usage of Howard through the first six games of the 2019 season, identifying concepts and roles that I believe play to Howard’s strength and should continue to be utilized – if not utilized even more.

The first is with play action. For as balanced as the Buccaneers coaches want their offense to be with run and pass, I feel as though they are leaving meat on the bone, if you will, when it comes to play-action. As shown above, Howard, being a more reliable blocker than the average tight end, gives the element of hesitation when he’s lined up in-line off tackle when incorporating play action.

Any hesitation from a defender guarding Howard in man coverage is a win for the Buccaneers and he hauls in the catch for a first down inside the red zone.

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The second play above gives even more evidence to the hesitation advantage.

A defender’s first responsibility is his gap in run defense. This is why play-action can be so manipulative. If you’ll notice, the defender being asked to cover Howard, who is lined up next to left tackle Donovan Smith, had to pause for a split second after the play-action motion to make sure the running back was not given the ball. If he would have ignored it, he would’ve been out of his gap and a run would have gone for a big play. But instead, because of the pause, he was not able to keep up with the speed of Howard down the sideline.

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Here’s another look at it.

Howard is a freak athlete for a player his size, so when you give him a coverage advantage via deception and manufactured hesitation, that’s often going to be a big win for the offense.

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Another area in which I see Howard having a lot of success is over the middle. Though the hit rate on these plays has not been what it was over the last two years, due to both Jameis Winston being a tad off in play-to-play accuracy and Howard having a case of the drops/fumbles, the success of the play call and the route still very much exists.

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It’s just so hard to cover Howard going up the seam if you give him a free release. What impressed me most about Howard’s tape at Alabama wasn’t his long speed, it was his acceleration. For a man of his size to get up out of his stance and into a sprint speed at the level in which he does is so rare; certainly rare enough for most linebackers to not be able to keep up.

As seen above, they still don’t in the NFL.

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Howard is also becoming more and more confident in his ability to round out his routes.

This is a good time to bring up an area of Howard’s game that people wish was better. For as athletic as Howard is for a player his size, his impressive speed is mostly north to south. He has trouble changing direction once his momentum gets going (which is perfectly understandable when you take his size into account), and this limits his route tree. You see smaller players like Julian Edelman or Adam Humphries (players with much more compact bodies) be able to stop on a dime and go from getting vertical to cutting cross the field in just a few steps. This is the most obvious way to see a receiver can separate, and when players can’t do that they are often written off as having separation issues.

But you can’t look at players of different size and expect Howard to do the same things they do. You have to allow him to win in his ways – he does that plenty.

Just because a bigger guy like Howard doesn’t move laterally as well as smaller players doesn’t mean he can’t separate in other ways. Howard can still make his own space by rounding his routes, as shown above. Watch as Howard comes of the line and veers his route towards the sideline before then circling it back towards the middle, almost like a bracket in a parentheses symbol “(“. It’s not as hard or as aggressive of a cut towards the middle as some other receivers might make, but it works, especially at his speed, and even more so when Howard can get a little physical as he’s going down the field.

Even though Howard isn’t going to be Zach Ertz or Evan Engram with his change of direction, his size and speed combined with his nuanced route running still create plenty of space.

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Let’s talk about Howard finding soft spots in zone coverage next.

In the play above, Howard was coming off the line of scrimmage on the strong side (right side). He was running a simple curl rout to the sticks (first down marker) on that play and did so perfectly. But Winston’s eyes never went that way. I noted quite a few plays over the first six games in which Howard was open in such a soft spot, but the play was designed for a different player. That’s fine (sometimes it’s not), but that’s not Howard’s fault. He’s open.

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Perhaps the reason why Howard hasn’t been a priority as much in soft spots is due to plays like the one above. Howard’s two turnovers were killers in that opening 49ers game, and both came on curl/hook routes when attacking soft zones.

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It’s not something that has been abandoned, but I did see Howard as less of a priority as the year went on. Take the play above a few weeks later as an example.

Just like in the first clip, Howard was wide open for an easy pass up the middle in the soft zone, and yet Winston’s eyes went to a much more difficult throw right away. This could be by design, so I’m not trying to throw Winston under the bus. But I am wondering why it isn’t as much of a priority.

Winston is better when he’s keeping his eyes in the middle. I understand that this is also where the potential for the most defenders are, but plays like the one above show that easy completions are there to guys like Howard over the middle.

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The last part of the receiving game I want to highlight is how creative you can be with Howard, and how the Bucs have already shown a willingness to do that.

I loved this little screen play to Howard, and it wasn’t the only time the Bucs have called it this year. With Howard being such an ideal player to get out and block in space, play calls like the one above where it looks like he might be a blocker but actually gets the ball have proven to really keep defenses guessing.

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The Bucs ran a similar play to Howard to even greater success in their game against Carolina in London. This is the kind of stuff Howard can do for an offense that really gives it value.

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Now this was a cool play. Howard was the man in motion behind the line of scrimmage on the play. His motion before the snap forced the Saints to adjust their alignment, and then as the ball was snapped, Howard appeared to be going against the grain but then reversed and actually became the lead blocker for Scotty Miller’s end around.

How many other tight ends in the NFL can you do stuff like this with? Not many, and I think that, though they have struggled to get what many would consider “the most” out of Howard, that’s why the Bucs are likely holding onto him through the deadline.

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The Bucs ran a similar type of play last season, only Howard was on the receiving end of things that time. Worked like a charm.

The reason why Howard was drafted No. 19 overall in 2017 was because of the types of plays we highlighted above. When he’s on the field, he’s a player multiple layers of the defense have to worry about on any given play. They clearly see his value, but I believe the team can utilize it even more.

Right now Howard’s value is that he draws attention from the defense and is being used as a decoy more than a primary weapon. I like the decoy element, but perhaps it’s time to move the percentage of decoy/primary play more in favor of him actually getting the ball.

Howard’s name is a clearly a hot one around NFL circles. At this time, it appears the Bucs won’t be trading him. Which is good. They should be using him – even more than they are now – instead.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]
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dfk68

They should move Brate instead. OJ will be on his rookie contract for a few more years, maybe they will figure out how to use him. Meanwhile Brate’s $7M is being wasted on a 2nd string TE in an offense that doesn’t use them.

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Sector2814

I agree. I was opposed to drafting OJH, not because I didn’t think he was good but because we have so many needs particularly in the trenches and we had a pretty good TE in Brate. But since Licht did draft Howard, he should’ve been trying to wheel and deal Brate for something we need instead of holding onto him until his salary is so large, it’ll be difficult to move him. Now we are stuck with Cam Brate because any team that has an interest will wait til we release him and negotiate a new salary rather than trade… Read more »

FLBoy84

Think Licht had visions of a Gronk/Hernandez tandem without realizing you need an OC that runs a system conducive to 2-TE sets and route combinations. At this point all you have is great/expensive depth if an injury occurs.

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Sector2814

Licht hired Bruce Arians to save his own @$$ more than it was the right choice for the team. I have nothing but respect for Coach Arians but I will be very surprised if he sees the end of his contract given his age and his lack of desire to rebuild. And given the state of this team in 2018 and it’s underwater salary cap, the Organization needs a rebuilder more than it does a reloader.

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dfk68

Agree on the OJH draft decision. I wanted Cam Robinson in that spot. Would have pushed D Smith to his natural RT position prior to the monster contract.

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thewbacca

Agree. I loved the Howard pick and felt Bucs stole a real talent. Guy is an outlier. We kept Brate because he has been Winston’s safety blanket for check downs and has good hands in red zone. We should have shopped Brate when the market was favorable.

Another example of how the wrong pick for QB can set your team back a half a decade.

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cgmaster27

Yup keeping brate had nothing to do with scoring the most touchdowns during that 2 year span in the league. But you’ll say brate threw it to himself. Is there really anything you all dont blame jameis for?

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thewbacca

I don’t expect any of us to memorize each other’s comment history (except for Bob), but my support for Jameis has been pretty level throughout his time here. He’s had his chances and I don’t see him as a franchise QB.

He’s not the entire scapegoat of the team any more than he is their savior.

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EricNV

Koetter’s offense often makes use of 2 TE sets. That’s why they kept Brate after drafting Howard.

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Gatordoc1

thought the same thing a few days ago. If someone will pay us enough to trade him.

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Buc stops here

Patriots only trade at a discount that benefits them. They always offer less than the person was drafted for, even if they are a good performer like OJ Howard. I guessed they offered a third round pick for him, and the Bucs declined (rightly). Here is what they did yesterday, and you will see, traded for a tight end two rounds lower than drafted – which is about the most they ever pay for in any trade. On Monday, New England acquired tight end Eric Saubert from the Falcons, according to NFL Network, in exchange for a seventh-round conditional pick.… Read more »

Sector2814

CORRECTION: Patriots only trade at a discount that benefits them WHEN IT’S THE BUCS. They gave a Second Rounder for Mohammad Sanu. Patriots got Aqib Talib from us for a Seventh Rounder. Yeah, I know he had some trouble with the law but given his youth at the time, he had more upside than Sanu who is on the wrong side of 30. Fast forward to today and Talib has been to more SBs than the Bucs organization. But what are you going to do? Chump Teams make Chump Decisions when it comes to personnel. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit… Read more »

Bucsfan1983

Actually, the Bucs traded Talib and a 7t round pick for a 4th round pick. I see your point though, they could have easily got a 2nd round pick for him. William Gholston, became the pick with the Pats 4th round pick they sent for Talib.

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Sector2814

Yeah, you’re right about the 7th for a 4th rounder but still too little for the kind of player Talib was/is.

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Sector2814

No. The fact that a top notch organization like the Patriots want him, proves he is worth holding on to.

Besides I’ll say it again: if we are trading for Draft Picks, with Jason Licht as our GM, what’s the point? I don’t trust him to make the most of any pick(s) we acquired in a trade anyway. In fact I would bet he would screw it up.

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bucballer

Use him more, don’t trade him! Let’s say we trade O.J. Brate becomes TE #1. He re-injures his surgically repaired hip. Now we have to use untested TE Hudson or shop around or draft a TE when we just got rid of a talented one. U just don’t trade young talent like O.J. because he has a bad game or two. By using these metrics Jameis would have been gone a long time ago…I’m just saying!

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gcolerick

Absolutely No on trading OJ Howard. He was projected to go top 10 in first round. Just because this coaching staff had not utilized him does not mean we should sacrifice the draft capital we have in him and end up watching him be a stud on another roster. Someone needs to get their head out of their ass and start targeting this guy in the game plan. I won’t mention any names but his initials are Byron Leftwich!

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Sector2814

“His initials are Byron Leftwich”

LMAO

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Bucsfan1983

Absolutely not. They must get him the ball more. He has the potential to be a top 5, possibly top overall TE in the league.

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Pete Wood

Don’t trade Howard or Brate.
Here’s a crazy idea. Here me out.
Watch old tape of the Patriots and study how to build a juggernaut two tight end offense.
We could actually try using two of the top ten tight ends in the league.
Crazy, I know.

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Buc76

Licht drafted him and now hes not being used. Another pick that should have been a top tier offensive lineman. He slipped down to our spot so Licht had to grab him. Licht has no enduring philosophy. It seems to vary from year to year. That’s why this team has no identity. How many picks have we wasted that could have been offensive lineman?

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Pete Wood

I have had my share of issues with Bucs draft picks. Don’t get me started.
But, Howard was a great pick, a steal, at nineteen. I think Bucs had to snag him.
Now, not using him is another story.

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Sector2814

Yeah, if you are going to take OJH, deal Brate for something you need. Winston just had his worst game with 5 picks which is also the first game we had where we played without Cappa or Dot. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

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SenileSenior

Licht drafted Howard because he was a steal at 19.  He and his staff had already failed with Seferian-Jenkins  who had a serious problem with alcohol.  They failed in due diligence somehow.  Howard was drafted on behalf of  Koetter who was known to like two TE sets. Arains inherited Howard and Brate but indicated that he was happy to have both.  Let us see how they are used going forward after the bye.   It has been reported that the coaches spent some time in self evaluation. The players were given a whole week to rest.  These were obviously BA’s decisions. ___________________ Go… Read more »

Dman

Slow news day coming off the bye week. This is just an absurd question, but since the Pats made the offer I guess we need to talk about it.

The obvious answer is no unless someone is stupid enough to offer the Sun, the Stars and the Moon. Since Licht works for Tampa, there’s no other GM that would be foolish enough to make that offer, so my guess is Howard will stay put.

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cbbucfan

I wouldn’t even consider trading Howard unless the offer blows you away. Must include a 1st round pick and another pick in rounds 2 or 3. He is the most complete and talented tight end on the roster, with a very high ceiling. The coaching staff just has to be smart and utilize his talents appropriately. Design plays for him. Create favorable matchups for him. Get him the football out of multiple formations. As pointed out by ProFootballTalk.com, he’s young and under contract for at least the next two years on his rookie deal. As noted in a post above,… Read more »

Sector2814

Yeah, if you can get more for him than you put in to getting him, then you make the deal. However, knowing the Pats approach to dealing with the Bucs, Belichek probably offered Licht their best water boy, some Legal Seafood Clam Chowder and a pick… in the Massachusetts State Lottery for OJ. I’m surprised Licht didn’t jump on the offer.

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Austin Williams

Awesome job on the Article Trevor, and I couldn’t agree more. Utilize and make a priority of the 1st round TE that has a ceiling as high as it goes potentially for a TE. Key mismatch in every game.

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Charlie

Definitely don’t trade O.J., he’s a beast. What’s odd is that Jameis always had really good chemistry with his tight ends dating back to his FSU days. So for him not to rely on O.J. heavily is kinda weird. Would probably relieve alot of pressure of him since Howard can win the seam so easily.

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fredster

I understand the criticism of Licht but Howard was projected top 10 pick and considered steal at 19. Now if there was O lineman or D lineman graded that high I’m sure he would have taken him. You don’t draft for need unless you want to suck. That said he has not done good job of improving talent on this O line. D line is close to being very good imo.

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fredster

And no I wouldn’t trade Howard.

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EastEndBoy

I was joking folks – no we shouldn’t trade Howard: 1) we would never recoup the value we spent to acquire him. NE’s #1 is like 32nd overall – we used the 19th on him just 3 drafts ago. 2) he’s young….we may well be about to rebuild the franchise – the cornerstones of that rebuilding are going to be our good young guys like Howard, Evans, Godwin, Marpet, Vea, Barrett, RoJo…that’s a very good core of 7 (maybe a few more) players to rebuild with. 3) our GM is not the guy you would trust to make a good… Read more »

Darktanian

They way I see it, you don’t get rid of star players to accommodate an OC that rather limit his offenses options instead of expanding them.

Trade Leftwich for a better OC who runs a better offensive scheme. An OC that can use all the weapons in his possession…AND WIN GAMES CONSISTENTLY!

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twspin

IF you just gotta trade Howard? Nothing less than a 1st rounder..PERIOD. Not a 2nd or third rder. I’d trade Jason Licht before I’d trade anybody on this team..including backups!

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Horse

If the plan is to keep Winston, then trade Howard for a #1 in 2020 and a # 2 in 2021. Howard is not being utilized correctly with Winston cast Winston is always looking four main Lee Evans and Goodwin.
The plan is not to keep Winston, then keep Howard for the next quarterback who will use him as was planned as a valuable target.

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Sector2814

you’re crazy if you think the Patriots are going to give up two #1’s for OJH. They don’t overpay for players.

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Horse

Well, they won’t be getting OJH then; it’s their need, not ours. Patriots drafting position is at the bottom. We owe those cheater’s nothing.

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Naplesfan

The Bucs should trade with San Francisco, straight up, for General Managers. Not that the 49ers owners would ever be that stupid… but it would be fantastic for the Bucs!

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Sector2814

if Licht were half as good at being a competent GM as he is at saving his job, the Bucs would be unstoppable.

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surferdudes

To think, Lynch was one of our own. Instead we got Meathead, Licht.

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plopes808

I agree, we should not be thinking of trading Howard. Instead, the OC should be thinking of ways to utilize him. If someone was to offer a 1st, I’d say think about it, but if not we need to use him like the 1st round pick he is

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drdneast

Gee whiz, you think Hoard could have at leasst put a little chiip on that DE coming in who almost killed Winston. When he released there was no one there.
As for that soft zone against San Fran, that was an inteception waiting to happen. Howard should have worked his way back to Winston once he saw him under duress.
Poor Dotson, he really does have trouble blocking out in space whereas Cappa was out there head hunting on that first screen pass shown.

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Doctor_Berto

Trade Brate or Mike Evans

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wish-in-one-hand

I totally agree with keeping OJ, dude is a beast but having a down year so far, it happens.

Don’t expect to see a lot of use of OJ till Cappa and Dot are back and healthy, they have been using him more as a blocker to sure that right side for more max protect, and after seeing their backups how could you blame them?

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Sector2814

Re: OJH blocking.

Exactly. Which is one of the reasons why he was drafted and touted as being better than Brate.

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