FAB 4. Howard Makes His Presence Felt In Bucs Debut
Tampa Bay rookie tight end O.J. Howard was probably more relaxed in his NFL debut than other first-round picks were around the league. The pressure is on teams to play first-round draft picks right away and shove them into the starting lineup whether they are ready or not.
Howard, who was widely regarded as a Top 10 pick in the NFL Draft, fell to the Bucs at No. 19 and entered the league as one of the few game-ready rookies. In training camp and the preseason the Alabama product quickly showed that he was worthy of starting opposite Cameron Brate in Dirk Koetter’s 12 personnel package, which features two tight ends.
With Brate, who caught eight touchdowns last year, Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans and speedster DeSean Jackson on the field, the pressure isn’t on Howard to come in and produce right away like it might be for other first-round picks.
“Whenever you can have guys on the team that can do the same thing you can it just makes the offense smooth,” Howard said. “We have Cam, we have Mike – everybody. It can make it a lot easier for everybody to get open and not have double coverage.”
Brate, who emerged as one of the NFL’s top receiving tight ends last year, has taken Howard under his wing and gave the rookie some valuable advice before Sunday’s kickoff against Chicago.
“He basically told me it’s just football,” Howard said. “Just do what you’ve been trained to do all offseason. Just do what we’ve done in practice with the plays. At the end of the day it’s just football.”
Howard actually got the start over Brate in the game and played a few more snaps – 46 to Brate’s 38, showcasing the ability to catch the football and be a devastating inline blocker that Bucs scouts saw at Alabama. Howard’s first NFL catch went for 17 yards.
“It was very exciting to play out your dream and be in the NFL,” Howard said. “It was good to get that under my belt and to get a win at home. It felt great. I got a catch, too, so all of that added up.
“As a kid you always dreamed of having an NFL catch and then when you finally do it, it’s like ‘Wow!’ It’s a relief, and then you can go play football.”
Howard would have had a catch earlier in the game on Tampa Bay’s first offensive play, and perhaps a touchdown if Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan hadn’t broken up Jameis Winston’s pass.
“Yes, it was, but the guy batted it down,” Howard said “That would have been very exciting, too. Yeah, it was there, but I barely missed it.”
Howard would extract some revenge on Trevathan later in the game on Jacquizz Rodgers’ touchdown drive. When the Bucs got inside the Bears’ red zone, Howard pancaked Trevathan to the ground with a vicious block.
“That was great,” Howard said. “Blocking is a big part of the game. You’ve got to be physical for your resume` and for guys around the league to see how you play.”
Koetter was definitely pleased by the play of his new 6-foot-6, 255-pound weapon.
“He did fine for his first game,” Koetter said. “O.J. is going to have a very bright future.”
With his rookie season off to a solid start Howard has no complaints about life in the NFL even though he may be not be featured as much as some other first-round skill players because of the vast arsenal Winston has at his disposal.
“To me, this is the life,” Howard said. “My opportunities will come. I’m not worried about. In college we didn’t have this much freedom, as far as, you come in, you practice, and you get time off.
“It wasn’t like this in college. You have to go to class, so right now I’m living the life. In college you were there all day and didn’t have as much time to watch film. It’s totally different for me. I’m loving it.”