So much was made about tight end O.J. Howard’s struggles in Bruce Arians’ offense in 2019, that many projected his departure this past offseason. Fuel was added to that fire when the Buccaneers were able to acquire veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski from the New England Patriots.
But Howard didn’t go anywhere and he is proving to his coaches that 2020 will feature a much improved version of himself.
“I really, honestly, just wanted to improve in the run game,” Howard said. “Since college I’ve taken pride in the run game. Coming from Alabama, we ran the ball a lot. Last year it was just more about my footwork. I took a step back in that. Once I started focusing more on that, the run game footwork and all the other stuff, the effort is always going to be there. The passing game, I never was too worried about that. I just have to make some plays in that aspect of the game. But, for me, it was the footwork in the run game this offseason and [I am] working on that as we speak now.”
There were times where Howard wasn’t well-received by coaches coming off the field last season. Fumbles, dropped passes, bad routes, and miscommunication were all apparent throughout the young tight end’s 2019 campaign.
Fortunately, Howard has been making strides to a better year in Arians’ offense and his head coach is noticing improvements already.
“I think the biggest thing for O.J. was just learning what we’re trying to teach. That’s a very difficult position in this scheme and he’s come in and he’s got a great handle on it right now,” said Arians falling Monday’s practice. “I think Rob’s helped him confidence-wise – seeing how good he is and telling him how good he is. When you’ve got a guy like Gronkowski and [Tom] Brady telling you you’re good, you’re probably pretty good. I think that’s helped, but he’s playing really, really well right now.”
And that help from Gronkowski, as Howard points out, has already paid dividends.
“We’ve already made a lot of improvements in a lot of areas as far as he’s helping us out a lot in the run game with his footwork and just different things in routes that he used over the years to help him get open,” Howard said of Gronkowski. “Just being on the field with him, us together has been a big mismatch. It’s hard to cover a lot of guys like that when we’re on the field together – it’s just hard to stop that. It’s going to open up a lot of things for everyone and I think it should be real fun.”
We’ll see how all that translates into the season. But for now, things sound promising for the former Alabama product.