As much pressure as there is to repeat as Super Bowl champions, the player on the Bucs roster that might have the most pressure going into this season is O.J. Howard.
The Bucs’ fifth-year tight end had a very serious Achilles injury that cost him his entire season after the first four games. He was there the whole time during the year as the Bucs won Super Bowl LV, but it has to be tough to miss out on all the pomp and circumstance of playing in that game.
Howard not only comes into 2021 off of a major injury, but he’s in a contract season with no guarantee that he’ll be in Tampa Bay next year. Looking around the roster, Howard needs to have big season more than the Bucs need him to.
After a shaky performance in Week 2 of the preseason cast some doubt, Howard bounced back with a solid game in the finale.
In the Bucs’ 31-29 thrilling season opening win over Dallas, Howard wasn’t able to put his stamp on the game as he didn’t have a reception or even a target. It would’ve been tough to considering he played just six snaps on offense, which was nine percent of the total offensive output. Third-string tight end Cam Brate got in on 12 more plays than Howard did.
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Seemingly, the Bucs are still easing Howard in. Maybe he needed to knock off some rust, but by his teammate’s views, Howard was shaping into form just at the right time.
“He has come off a very serious injury and he’s been doing everything,” said fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski. “I’ve been seeing him all offseason from the very beginning. He’s been working his tail off and he looks really good. I love working out there with O.J., love lining up next to him. He’s just a freak of an athlete, I mean, he can run super fast, get out of breaks really fast and he’s a very reliable blocker. I like when he’s next to me when we got to double team and go up to the next level. O.J., he’s the man. It’s great to see him back out there with all the hard work that he put in to come back from such an injury.”
The Bucs brought back all the starters to their roster, which means the continuity is in place on offense. The rest of Tampa Bay’s skill players have worked a whole season building chemistry with Tom Brady. Howard needed to keep up in that regard as well.
“O.J. has worked really hard to put himself in the position he is in,” Brady said. “I think he’s prepared to have a great season. He has worked really hard through training camp, been available to the team – [he’s] a very hard worker and doing all the right things. [I’m] really happy to have him back out there.”
It’s one thing to worry about playing in a contract year, but it’s another to make it all the way back after going through what he went through. Howard mentioned that the toughest part of returning wasn’t anything physical.
“I would just say mentally more than anything,” Howard said. “Really not physical, just trying to stay focused and trust the team that I have – the rehab doctors that I have and the training staff here – that we were going to get back to where I want to be. It was a slow process. It was long, but it worked out. That was the hardest thing just staying focused on that and knowing that everything would be okay.”