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O.J. Howard's Goal: Consistency

Posted Apr 28, 2017

The Buccaneers expect big things from the first first-round tight end in team history, but the path to stardom for O.J. Howard will begin with day-to-day consistency, and he knows it.

There are a lot of flashy words in O.J. Howard's scouting report, though many of them boil down to "big and fast." He's got the potential to be that rare complete "Y" tight end, a three-down player who can block and run routes at an equally high level. He's said to have good "length" and "catch radius," plus burst, agility, balance and durability.

What the Tampa Bay Buccaneers most want to see from Howard once he takes the field at One Buccaneer Place is something far less sexy than explosiveness or power. After spending a first-round pick on a tight end for the first time in the franchise's 42 NFL drafts, what the Buccaneers will be looking for is this: consistency. And Howard seems to know it.

READ: BUCS SELECT HOWARD IN FIRST ROUND

Asked during his introductory press conference on Friday what he needed to work on the most as he transitioned to the NFL, Howard started with these two words: "Being consistent."

"Blocking at this level, everybody's really fast and strong," he continued. "I have to be very consistent in my technique in the run game and also running routes."

If Buccaneers' Head Coach Dirk Koetter wasn't already enamored of Howard – and he very much was, as you'll see below – that answer would have sealed it. Even General Manager Jason Licht noticed a reaction.

"I could see Dirk's eyes start to open up a little bit when he said that, because that's what they preach to the players, staying consistent and working hard," said Licht. "He embodies all of that."

Howard is the fourth Alabama player the Buccaneers have selected in the first round through the years, and the 14th Crimson Tide product they've drafted overall. That's more than any other school, including Florida and Florida State, which produced the team's two most recent first-rounders. Obviously, that covers four decades and several different coaching regimes in Tuscaloosa, but there's no doubt that Nick Saban's program regularly turns out a multitude of NFL-ready players. Howard saw three other Tide teammates drafted during Thursday night's first round. He thinks they all got a boost from playing at Alabama.

"I think Coach Saban and his staff there do a great job of getting us ready, just the way we practice," said Howard. "He always tells us, 'This is how the NFL is,' so you guys have got to do it this way because it's going to be like this at the next level.

"Stay focused and don't get too caught up in things that aren't very important. He always talks about being very consistent and putting in a lot of hard work. I listen to him about those types of things and I really think it pays off."

READ: 5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HOWARD

For him, that's particularly true in terms of his blocking, which is where he really needs to excel in order to be an elite tight end in the pro ranks.

"Every day at Alabama we would start off with the blocking drills in our position drills in Team Run," said Howard. "Those are two of the things we do a lot that made me become a better blocker. It was either learn how to block or you really didn't get a chance to play a lot. I think that really helped me out."

The Buccaneers began scouting Howard heavily in 2015 since there was the possibility he would declare for the draft after his junior year. Howard returned to Tuscaloosa for his senior season, however, which meant he was eligible to participate in the Senior Bowl in front of NFL scouts this past January. As a player who was already considered a potential top-10 pick, Howard could have skipped the week in Mobile without raising any eyebrows, but he chose to participate and showed off both his work ethic and his blocking talents.

Licht was impressed with that decision and what he felt it said about Howard's character. Koetter was simply impressed by what he saw on the field.

"The first day of Senior Bowl practice in pads, Jason and I were sitting up on about the 35-yard line and O.J. put on a clinic that day," said Koetter. "After about two periods, I stood up, said to Jason, 'I've seen the guy I want,' and I walked down the stairs."

Of course, given Howard's draft projections, the Buccaneers may not have reasonably expected to actually land the Alabama star on Thursday. Licht called it a "pipe dream" when Howard lasted to pick #19, and on Friday said the team was still in a "euphoric state" about that bit of good fortune.

At one point on Thursday night, however, Licht also pointed out that there was a "long way to go" for both Howard and the Buccaneers before they could meet their expectations for the 2017 season. That will be important to remember when the draft euphoria wears off. Then it will be about hard work, and the Buccaneers believe they have added a player who will give them that – and do so consistently – and fit right in with the culture they are cultivating at One Buccaneer Place.

"We want good people, guys that embrace the community and want to be good citizens in Tampa," said Licht. "But more important for us is the football character, and being a team-first guy. Those are the type of guys that we call Bucs, the right kind of fit."