If you are a Bucs fan and have any kind of access to preseason games, training camp, interviews, etc. in the past offseason, than it is evident what is going on inside the walls of One Buc Place. A culture change is brewing. Players are becoming brothers, chemistry is being created, bonds are being formed.
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There seems to be a different feel with the fan base. Practice attendance is setting records and people are taking notice. NFL outlets pretty much discuss us on a daily basis. Seems a lot different than just a year ago.
At this point last season a player by the name of Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was our starting Tight End. He was considered to be potentially the best in the league if predictions amounted to anything. He had all the potential in the world. Even Tony Gonzalez threw out some praise.
However, ASJ was cut when it became obvious that he was more concerned with partying than building camaraderie on an up-and-coming team. He was pulled over merely hours before practice began during training camp and cited for a DWI. ASJ just didn’t have what it took to lead and excel in this city with these people.
In comes OJ Howard, the Bucs first round pick in 2017 draft. From all accounts this guy is the real deal. Not only is his athleticism and skillset much greater than ASJ’s, but apparently so is his character. Recently, ASJ has been quoted to state he lacked the true love for football. OJ is his polar opposite. He breathes the sport, often staying after practice to perfect his craft.
OJ Howard was widely considered the best Tight End prospect coming out of college in the past decade. He is an elite blocker already and has the potential to be one of the greatest in the league at pass-catching. It’s still a miracle that he dropped to Tampa at nineteen. Most teams chose need over the best player available and the Bucs may have had the steal of the draft. It’s looking more and more like it.
One of the biggest issues with Tampa’s inadequacies since Gruden was canned was the locker room chemistry. Players often complained about the lack of interest and discipline. Jameis is absolutely the main reason why our personality has been cleansed but it seems the replacement of immature, alcohol-loving, frat boy wannabe, ASJ to boy scout OJ Howard may have been a metaphor bigger than we can comprehend.
We all know Dirk loves his Tight Ends in his offensive scheme. In case you weren’t aware, Dirk did wonders on offense when he had Gonzalez in Atlanta. His playbook is predicated on this position. Tampa’s offense regressed in 2016 from 2015 and it seems like a big reason was the loss of ASJ.
Cameron Brate did a fantastic job stepping up to the plate, but he is one-dimensional and does not possess the blocking skills that OJ does. An argument could be made that our offensive struggles were attributed to adjusting to the playbook without ASJ’s skillset. OJ should be able to rectify that loss and open Dirk’s playbook back up so hypothetically, we have not even yet sampled what the Offense can do.
A changing of the guard may have just been what this team needed to get over the hump at one of the most important positions for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Tight End just went from Zero to Hero in one season. I personally believe this guy will be a household name by season’s end.
Now let’s hope he translates on the field when it really counts…