Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
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Calling this NFL offseason unique would be a gross understatement.
COVID-19 has changed the landscape of all professional sports including the postponement – and even possible cancellation – of the NBA, MLB and NHL seasons, while also wreaking havoc on the NFL’s normal and important offseason, which is typically filled with mini-camps and OTAs (organized team activities). And the virus could still cause disruptions of the NFL season in 2020, causing a later start, a shorter preseason and even an amended length of schedule in the regular season.
With all this going on players have had to adjust what they do to get ready for a season, including figuring out ways to work out on their own without coaches and training staffs, plus trying to refresh their memory of the playbook and learn new plays and concepts.
For someone like second-year tight end Tanner Hudson this couldn’t have come at a worse time. With the addition of five-time Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski, the re-signing of Antony Auclair and the Buccaneers having Cam Brate and O.J. Howard under contract, making the 55-man roster won’t be easy for the former undrafted free agent from Southern Arkansas University.
I caught up with Hudson, who had a great preseason last year, leading the Bucs with 19 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns, this week at his home in Tennessee. When he is not out searching for Bigfoot (see the end of the story), aliens or getting beat by his girlfriend in fishing, Hudson is pretty good at football. He saw limited action last year when promoted to the active roster and caught two passes for 26 yards.
What was your offseason like before the shutdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak?
“I went back home (to Tennessee) like normal, seeing family hanging out with (my girlfriend) Karley, and then when all the stuff started happening I wasn’t sure when we would be able to go back to Tampa. So I ended up staying here in Tennessee and we were able to get into a little gym. It was hard to find a place to workout and run but we were lucky and able to find a place, but also able to stay safe as well. It is a little difficult doing all of your workouts and getting all your running in by yourself. But it is just one of those things that you just have to do. And the guys on your team are counting on you whether we are in quarantine or if we were all together. Everyone is counting on each other to get those things done.”
What was the difference between this offseason and ones in the past, and when did it hit you things would be much different in 2020?
“Once we realized we weren’t going to be able to get together for OTAs, I had to start thinking, how am I going to get my routes in, and how was I going to study? It was different. It is going to be more on your time to get your studying in, get your routes in. So I had to find a quarterback down here to throw to me, which luckily I did. Jacob Tucker, who was Mr. Football in Tennessee, was really good and played in one of the D-2 schools (University of North Alabama). He did good for me and was all I could hope for.”
How much does a playbook change from season to season?
“It is a little bit of a refresher and different. We are obviously going to put in some different things. You try and learn from year to year. You try and do things better. I know a couple of the guys have been throwing with Tom Brady (in Tampa) and I just have tried to see what he likes different. Whether it is breaking different on certain routes or whatever it is. Just trying to learn what he likes. You have to adapt to whoever is leading your team. Just trying to learn what he likes best and go from there.”
How much of a difference do you think it will be catching passes from Tom Brady as opposed to Jameis Winston?
“I think there will be a difference for sure. Tom has been in the league for as long as he has and has learned and seen more things than Jameis has. Personally, I thought Jameis was a great quarterback. But Tom is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. So it is one of those things where you just have to see how he likes to do things. The ball may be there quicker, it may be there later. It is just one of those things where hopefully I can get some reps in with him. I am actually leaving to head down to Tampa on Friday.”
Where were you when you heard the news that Brady was coming to Tampa Bay?
“I think I was at the house. I cant remember exactly what I was doing, but it was like a surreal moment. To think I could be a teammate of him and learn from him. And all the things that come with playing with a guy like that. It doesn’t really hit you right when it happens – it’s later on. And I was like, ‘Wow, I am really going to get the chance to play with Tom Brady.'”
The addition of Brady was big news in Tampa Bay and soon the news broke that the Buccaneers had acquired veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski in a trade. Hudson, who was the fourth tight end on the depth chart to start the season last year behind Howard, Brate and Auclair, realizes it will be a crowded room in 2020 and once again he could be an underdog to make the 55-man roster.
In the second part of the conversation we talked about the challenges.
Now that Rob Gronkowski is on the team, what were your thoughts knowing it might be an uphill climb to stick on the active roster?
“I have learned … as a rookie, something like that would have really stressed me out honestly, and put a lot on my plate. Being on the practice squad as a rookie (2018) I was always thinking, ‘Were they going to cut me? Was I going to get moved up to the active roster? Oh, they are trying out tight ends – were they trying to replace me?’ And it really got to me. It is a stressful situation. But one of my buddies, (former Bucs offensive lineman) Leonard (Wester), I talked to him and he told me you can’t control who they bring in and for what reason. All you can do is your best and make it hard for them to let you go. So that is kind of how I look at it now. They bring in Gronk and that is great for our team. I am happy for our team. That is another guy who has been in the league for a long time and I can learn a lot of different things from like I have from Cam and O.J. the last couple years.”
What are your goals in 2020, and have you worked on getting stronger and better at blocking?
“Every tight end wants to catch a ton of balls, but you have to be that versatile tight end. Whether it be blocking, or if they put you in as a fullback, or they split you wide to go run a fade. Whatever it is, you want to do that. You don’t ever want the coaches to say, put someone else, that’s not what he does. So for course I want to do it all. But I know with my size, and I know my strengths, I am never going just be able to remove a defensive end from the line of scrimmage. I want to hold my own and not get pushed back. I need to hold my own in the trenches.”
Bruce Arians doesn’t shy away from expectations for this team in 2020. What are your thoughts on how good this team can be?
“I love the way Bruce coaches. It’s win – it’s just win. Losing is not acceptable. Winning the Super Bowl is our goal. That is what you want to win. The goal isn’t just to make it to the playoffs. The goal isn’t to just win a certain number of games or just make it to the Super Bowl. You want to win the Super Bowl – period. There is a lot talk of us going to the Super Bowl and I am all for those expectations.”
Cook’s musings and ramblings about the Buccaneers and the NFL. Good stuff. Check it out.
• Count Tanner Hudson as one of those that thinks Ronald Jones II can be a great running back for Tampa Bay, and believes he can take another big step in 2020.
“He is a young guy, but I saw a tremendous jump from his rookie year to last year,” Hudson said. “His ability to cut and make guys miss is something special. It think with this coaching staff, the guys behind him and now especially with Tom Brady here, he is only going to get better.”
• Defensively, Hudson really likes a couple guys in the secondary.
“I am really excited to see our defense play as a whole, but I think Jordan Whitehead and Carlton Davis are really going to have a really special year for us. They have two years under their belt and they went up against a lot of really good receivers. Jordan is not afraid to come up and hit you, and Carlton is a big, long defensive corner. I think they both are really going to have great years.”
• I am with Hudson on Whitehead and Davis. Whitehead might be the most overlooked guy on the defense from a media and fans standpoint. He was playing his best ball of his career when he injured his hamstring in Detroit and was done for the rest of the season. He should only be better in 2020. While fans are clamoring for Justin Evans to get back on the field and to see what rookie Antonio Winfield Jr. can do, I personally think it will be hard to get Whitehead off the field in 2020.
• And lastly, man, I am missing getting out and seeing football in person. And with no guarantee that the media will even have in-person access this year at AdventHealth Training Center, it’s kind of a depressing thought. Sure, it’s nice to work from home, to sit in the recliner in your boxers and not even put a shirt on some days (photos available on request), but as humans we do crave that human interaction from time to time. When things do get back to normal, and they will one day, I certainly won’t take my job for granted.
I won’t even complain about Ira Kaufman wandering around the media room aggravating the other writers from time to time. I won’t complain about how hot is is as I sit on the back patio watching practice or the long walk to the indoor practice fields.
I won’t get mad that the soda machine is out of order in the media room, or when the public relations staff yells at me to get out of open locker room because time is up – even if I am in the middle of an interview. Now Jenna Laine’s 13 bags of stuff clogging the aisle at home games in the press box where I almost trip and fall on Sundays, I don’t miss. Just kidding, Jenna. I miss that a little bit.
My point is, I have a dream job and while even the best jobs are work some days, if anything good comes from this pandemic, maybe we all learn to appreciate the simple things a little more.
Oh, and I’d like to actually meet Tom Brady.
Last week, I featured What’s Cooking with Cam Brate, but another Bucs tight end made an appearance and shared his thoughts of a number off things, including finding Bigfoot. No, really – Bigfoot. Here is Tanner Hudson’s show from last September.