FAB 2. Brate Battling Back From Hip Injury

Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate is back and feeling better than ever after offseason hip surgery to replace a torn labrum. He’s running and catching the ball without pain, and ready to perform like he did during the 2016 and ’17 seasons when he was one of the main weapons in Tampa Bay’s passing game.

If Brate didn’t look his usual self last year, producing just 30 catches for 289 yards and six touchdowns following two seasons where he averaged 52 catches for 625 yards, it’s because he wasn’t close to being his old productive self from a health standpoint.

I had the chance to catch up with Brate last week for an exclusive interview, and for the first time he opened up about an injury that hampered his play during the entire 2018 campaign.

Hip Labral Tear
Hip Labral Tear – MayoClinic.com

According to MayoClinic.com, a hip labral tear involves the ring of cartilage (labrum) that follows the outside rim of the socket of your hip joint. In addition to cushioning the hip joint, the labrum acts like a rubber seal or gasket to help hold the ball at the top of your thighbone securely within your hip socket.

That sounds painful. Brate felt that injury with every step taken while walking or running, and trying to block and achieve the necessary torque through the hips to engage a defender was absolutely painful. I had heard at the Senior Bowl from a source that Brate’s injury actually happened during the 2017 and that the hope was that it would heal during the 2018 offseason and wouldn’t require surgery.

“So that was the initial thought, and we didn’t know the extent necessarily,” Brate said. “The imaging isn’t always necessarily right, until you go in there surgically you don’t really know what’s happening, so we didn’t really know the extent and we tried non-surgical options. In retrospect I definitely should have done it last year, but we just didn’t know.”

As the start of the 2018 season drew closer and Brate was still in pain, he and team doctors sat down with Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht and discussed either playing through the injury all season or going on injured reserve. For Brate, who had just signed a six-year, $40.8 million contract extension in the 2018 offseason, missing the entire year wasn’t an option. He decided to tough it out the entire season, participating in nearly every practice and playing in all 16 games.

“We kind of made the decision before the season started,” Brate said. “We sat down and thought we were going to try to get through the season and reevaluate it after, and then O.J. [Howard] got hurt as well, so then I had a little more on my plate at that point to. In my mind, I.R. wasn’t really an option, so that’s kind of how things worked out.”

Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

The normally sure-handed Brate might have suffered through more drops last year than he probably had in his previous four seasons combined as a result of the injury, which was difficult to block out because the pain was felt with every step he took.

“Yeah, personally I wish I would have played better last year and everything like that, but I just don’t think I was able to prepare for the season the way I wanted to dealing with the injury. Week to week I wasn’t able to prepare for the games the way I normally would. It was more just kind of getting through the season. More than anything I’m just glad I was able to get it taken care of. I won’t have to deal with that moving forward.”

It is human nature to protect one’s self. Self-preservation is a basic human instinct, and I asked Brate if there was a part of him during the season that was just looking forward to January so he could finally get the surgery he needed to repair the torn labrum in his hip.

“Yes and no,” Brate said. “I was doing everything I could to try and help out the team. The season kind of got away from everyone as a collective group, and in a season like that, a lot of guys almost have that mindset toward the end of the year – it’s hard not to. You really have to tell yourself, ‘Okay, this is important. So many people would love to be in our shoes and it doesn’t matter that it’s Week 17 and you know you’re not going to make the playoffs.’ You kind of have to take a step back and realize what a great opportunity it is. I’m looking forward to not having to deal with an injury anymore, but I was still having fun playing football last year.”

After not catching a pass in the first two games of the year, Brate finally had three catches for 34 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football in Week 3. When Howard went down with an injury in Tampa Bay’s 38-35 loss at New York, Brate had to pick up the slack down the stretch and responded with 13 catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns down the stretch. Brate had nearly half of last year’s production in the final six games of the year, including two touchdowns against the Saints, when his hip was hurting him the most.

Bucs TE Cameron Brate - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Although Brate finished with a career-low 9.6-yard average last season, he did have six touchdowns, and his 20 touchdowns over the past three years are the most of any tight end in the league during that span. Part of the reason for that production is his rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston, who was reinserted as the team’s starter down the stretch.

“So much of that is on the quarterback as well, and Jameis has a lot of faith in me down in the red zone, we work on it all the time,” Brate said. “Down there the throws and the windows aren’t going to be huge so the quarterback has to have a lot of faith in where you’re going to be. You’re going to have to have an idea of where the quarterback is going to throw the ball. That’s something that just comes through practice and preparation and that’s something Jameis and I have worked on since he came into the league in 2015.”

Those touchdowns and that rapport with Winston was a big reason why the Bucs re-signed Brate to a long-term contract extension. Over the past two years, Brate and Howard were able to coexist in Koetter’s two-tight end offensive scheme.

But what about new head coach Bruce Arians’ scheme, which typically calls for just one tight end and three receivers on the field? Brate said that both he and Howard will see plenty of playing time this year, noting that Arians really only had one tight end that could catch the ball and be featured in Arizona in Jermaine Gresham. Now Arians has two.

“We kind of talked about that in the tight end room and stuff and it seems like we’re definitely going to be heavily involved in the offense,” Brate said. “I’m really excited about the role that I think both of us are going to play. We haven’t really talked with Bruce about it, but our tight end coach has been telling us about all the things we’re going to be doing with us, so O.J. and I are really excited, and I think everyone in the room is excited about the opportunities we’re going to get in this offense.”

Arians’ offense centers around the vertical passing game and will involve working the seam down the middle of the field a lot with slot receiver Chris Godwin, in addition to vertical seam routes for both Howard and Brate. But Brate wants to be known as a complete tight end, and with his surgically repaired hip, he’s actually excited to block more in Arians’ scheme, too.

Bucs TE Cameron Brate and QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs TE Cameron Brate and QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“Hopefully I think I’m going to be blocking a little more, which is something I wasn’t able to do a ton last year,” Brate said. “I couldn’t really get the work I wanted to with the injury, so I kind of got phased away from it a little bit, but I think with both of us on the field a little bit more in the run game together will definitely open up some stuff in the pass game – working different play actions off of that and I think that’s definitely going to be utilized in this offense.”

Brate is still getting to know Arians, but loves what he has heard thus far from the fiery, intense new coach.

“I’ve only directly talked to Bruce a couple of times, we’ve only had one or two team meetings so far, but I think he’s just a no-nonsense kind of guy,” Brate said. “He’s going to give it to you straight and I think he challenged us from the start. We’re going to work hard, we’re going to practice on two fields, so skill position players, it’s up to us to get in shape because he’s going to run the heck out of us in training camp.

“I think the guys are all really excited to work with him a little bit more, the meetings have been going well. Learning a new offense in the NFL is hard, and it takes time because those playbooks are thick. I think all the guys are excited about the change. I’m going to miss Dirk. I don’t want to talk bad about Dirk at all. I think he’s a good coach, but I think we’re all a little excited to hit the reset button and start fresh in this year.”

Brate indicated his rehab is going well, but that he would likely miss the team’s pre-draft mini-camp on April 23-24. Brate said he will be cleared for training camp, but will likely miss the OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp the first week of June.

Bucs GM Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Brate entered the 2018 season wounded, but made the decision to play an entire season hurt instead of going on injured reserve and gutted his way through all 16 games. The team repaid that loyalty by keeping him and his $7 million salary on the roster this year, rather than making Brate a cap casualty even though Tampa Bay needed to clear some salary cap room. Brate’s $7 million became fully guaranteed on March 17.

“It does mean a lot to me, and hopefully I’m going to do everything in my power to prove them right, get back to playing the way I’ve played in the past,” Brate said. “Just focus on a couple extra months of getting healthy and hopefully be all systems go come the fall. I’m excited.”

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

14 COMMENTS

  1. Trade down twice in the first round and get four players in the first 2 rounds of the draft.

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    -12
    Rating: -7. From 17 votes.
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    • People need to miss that there is a real difference in talent between top 5 picks and 2nd rounders. Hall of famers are rarely drafted in the 2nd round.

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      Rating: +2. From 6 votes.
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  2. It’s really frustrating that we’re still going with the “Jameis and Kwon are Pro Bowler” narrative.

    1) It’s often, though not always, a popularity contest.

    2) Alternates who get in due to injury or the real Pro Bowler bowing out because of the Playoffs, doesn’t turn said alternate into an actual Pro Bowl player.

    It DEFINITELT doesn’t for ALTERNATE to the 1st alternate.

    Kwon has never been a good player. That was a myth.

    And Jameis is somewhere around 20-22, or top half of the bottom 1/3 of the league, through 4 years.

    Hopefully Jameis ascends this year, but, to date, that is where we are.

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    -15
    Rating: +6. From 36 votes.
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    • You think Mike Evans didn’t deserve to be a Pro Bowl selection this year just because the players selected before him were injured or declined? If you say yes, you should just stop watching football. Did JW and Kwon get lucky those years that they were voted in? Sure. But they actually had better performances in seasons in which they were not actually voted into the Pro Bowl. Jameis’ ceiling is top 10 and floor is 20. In reality, he’s middle of the pack. That’s based on numbers and film. Kwon is a good player, but maybe not a Pro Bowler and certainly not an All-Pro or HOFer. You literally cannot say that he is a bad player if you’ve ever watched a Bucs football game or looked at his numbers compared to other players. I’m tired of people with no football knowledge spewing trash on here.

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      Rating: +16. From 22 votes.
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  3. Good Fab 5 Scott. Not sure what the Bucs will do in the draft. Still don’t get why there are a couple players who are over paid based on 3 seasons or more of being so so are still here.

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    Rating: +11. From 11 votes.
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  4. I really think James Wilder should be in the ring of honor. As the years go by, players from Wilder’s era are easier to forget, but he was a HUGE talent and contributor for Tampa Bay in the 1980’s.

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    Rating: +15. From 15 votes.
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  5. I love Brate’s tshirt. No doubt Brate earned his way into the school unlike a lot of uber rich elitist children that attend the school.
    Do you think he makes enough money now so that he can afford his own place and has he taken Casey Phillips out on a date yet.
    If he hasn’t, maybe he shouldn’t have gone to Harvard.

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    Rating: +2. From 8 votes.
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  6. If only I knew football?

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  7. You might want to add “State” after “Alabama” on Tytus Howard’s write-up. I was trying to figure out how “Alabama” was a small school.
    Also, thanks for finally putting in that there won’t be a Fab 5 for the next two weeks, usually there is no notice and I’ll keep refreshing the site on Friday waiting for one and it never shows up, e.g. last week.

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  8. Winston’s floor may be 20 but his ceiling is Top 5 (best)… I hope it finally comes out this season…

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    Rating: +3. From 9 votes.
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  9. Underrating Ed Oliver is a big mistake.

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    Rating: +7. From 9 votes.
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  10. Daquan Bowers was rated #1 on everybody’s big board before he tore his ACL & he fell to us in the 2nd rd out of Clemson that year. I remember reading about how we got the steal of the draft and how we got an “A” grade for our draft that year only to have Bowers turn out to be a bust. Simmons may turn out to be a great player but if Licht gambles & he turns out to be Bowers there is no coming back from that. For me he better be going big on the Oline in the 2nd rd because we can blame you for alot of things but nobody will blame you for not trying.

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    Rating: +7. From 7 votes.
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  11. Sadly those two Safeties, and RT were there but in typical Licht fashion draft a CB that in four publications had ranked 12,14,16,15th CB in this class. Also a guy who played vs WRs who WONT be playing on Sundays! God forbid we took Risner and Gardner-Johnson. Or Adderley and Winovich, or Adderley and Michael Jordan.Parris Campbell matched with Mike Evans and OJ Howard would be pure AWESOMENESS and really push Godwin and his inconsistencies.Whatever I can’t talk about this GM anymore – wish I didn’t see this article to remind me of how awful he is.

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  12. Jameis’s ceiling 10? floor is 20?? Lol , he was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick!! He’s lead the NFL in turnovers since being drafted. What 12 QBs are definitely “ WORSE” than him? Because the Nick Foles , Case Keenums and Kurt Cousins have been just as successful and played just as good thus far. Not better than any NFC South QB, not better than Wilson,Goff, Jimmy G got hurt but has shown a glimpse of what could be , and Arizona just took #1 pick(rookie) Not better than Rodgers, Stafford has played better with much less .Trubisky broke out last year and Cousins has been better since 2015. Dak, Wentz , Alex Smith have all proven to be above average quality playoff caliber QBs . Eli be the one you could argue but he has 2 SB rings!! AFC – Brady? Allen ( rookie), Darnold (rookie) Miami (2 ) – Big Ben, Daulton(3) Lamar Jackson ( rookie), Mayfield..Luck, Watson, Mariota (4), Bortles (5).Mahomes, Rivers, Carr, Keenum / Flacco (6) – take away the Rookies and maybe 6 QBs you can say Winston’s definitely better than. Although Mariotas had Delani Walker and not one weapon but TWO playoff appearances. I believe he would have put up good #’s in Dirks offense.So his floor is 26th-27th and he’s not better than Brees, Ryan,Rodgers,Wilson, Goff, Wentz,Luck,Mayfield, Mahomes,Big Ben, Brady, Rivers (12)..and could argue atleast 3-5 more (Cam, Watson, Dak, Carr, A. Smith, Stafford,Cousins)- So cutting down his turnovers and being tops in that 13-18 Tier is his celing- So 14-15th best ? Thus EXACTLY MIDDLE OF PACK= LEAGUE AVERAGE !! That is the best we can get, and a floor of 26,27th. So he should never be paid higher than 14th at his position.

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