Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The curious game of O.J. Howard
The game this Sunday between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the visiting Miami Dolphins isn’t considered by most to be one of the marquee match-ups of Week 4. Ignoring the desire for drama by supporters of the South Floridians because they want an upset, or CBS who is sending their top broadcasting crew of Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson to cover the contest, the prevailing wisdom is that the Bucs are expected to win.
Of course, anything quirky can happen in this league, so here’s to expecting Tampa Bay as a team will handle their business like the veterans they are against the young Dolphins. However, one particular veteran doesn’t seem to be handling an opportunity that has come up due to injury.
Tight End O.J. Howard has not produced much all season, and with starter Rob Gronkowski now on the shelf, it seems like this would be his time to shine. Buccaneers fans know about Howard and all the tools he had coming out of Alabama. They are also familiar with his problems staying on the field as a professional.
The NFL is a next man up league. The starter going down is the backup’s chance to show what he can do. Sure, it is only four games into the season, one full game without Gronk, but Howard has yet to do much in the passing game. Cameron Brate got almost all of the looks going the position’s way from Tom Brady in New England.
Catching passes isn’t the only thing the tight end does, mind you, but in the Bucs offense so far in 2021, it is clearly the major one. Maybe offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich allows the running game to get into a groove, and O.J. can do big damage moving defenders for Leonard Fournette. There certainly can be some value in that.
Then again, that’s not the reason Jason Licht drafted O.J. Howard with the 19th overall pick in 2017. He was going to be a nightmare for linebackers and safeties in coverage underneath and especially downfield. He had the look of and potential to be a perennial Pro Bowl tight dnd.
There’s still time, and O.J. could still be a major factor in the Buccaneers’ march to back to back Super Bowl wins. The clock is ticking, though, Especially with the desire and perhaps need for a Gronkowski return later this year.
If O.J. Howard can’t finally break through when the opening is there for him to be the player envisioned, when will it happen? Only time will tell, and that answer could go a long way to determining his future in Tampa Bay.