You probably know by now that Bucs' tight end Cameron Brate went to Harvard, but what you may not know is that he actually grew up in a Chicago suburb before earning his Ivy League standing. He'll embark on his first homecoming as a Buccaneer this weekend when the team travels to Chicago.
This will be the fifth straight season the two teams have at it but the last three tilts have been inside Raymond James Stadium, dating back to 2015. That was Brate's first year on the Bucs' active roster. He was on Tampa Bay's practice squad when the team went to Chicago in 2014, meaning he unfortunately missed the trip.
To return home as a member of the opposition for a kid who grew up a Bears fan must be a little strange. Just game-planning against a team (and city) where defense is king again is a bit of a full-circle moment. The Bears have seemingly returned to their 'Monsters of the Midway' status and as a member of the offense, Brate will now be tasked with going up against the likeness of a defense he undoubtedly grew up watching.
Like those teams of Chicago Bears past, the strength of the 2018 Bears' defense lies with its linebackers, including but not limited to Khalil Mack, who was Chicago's splash signing of the preseason. He has catalyzed the Bears' 3-4 defense into a 'monster' front and it's something that Brate, as a tight end, will have to be weary of in pass protection or blocking scenarios.
"Defensively, they're really, really good," Brate said. "Their front seven, they have a couple really good edge rushers and their linebackers are fast. They can cover the whole entire field. We faced a 3-4 team last week so that week of preparation should help us out. We have to make sure we are all on the same page, working the right people and hopefully give the quarterback some time back there."
Brate will be one of those that will help buy time against the defense when he's not being utilized as a pass-catcher. Either way, as a tight end, and a big body, he'll have to make an impact. Not only will his aid in pass protection be needed but being asked to chip a linebacker like Mack before he releases into his routes is certainly a possibility, too. It's highly unlikely Brate would ever be solely responsible for Mack, which is fine by Brate, who says that he hopefully doesn't see too much of the Bears' outside linebacker on Sunday.
The Bucs do have a bit of an advantage coming off playing a Pittsburgh Steelers team who also operates in a base 3-4 front, as Brate mentioned. It's a little bit of a switch because the Bucs operate a 4-3 along with what seems to be a good portion of the league, making the offense a little more familiar with that type of scheme by default.
"In practice, we always go against a 4-3 team, in training camp and everything like that so when we do face a 3-4 team, it does change up the rules in the run game and pass protection," Brate said. "That is a challenge. The only way you get better at it is more reps, so hopefully we can learn from the mistakes we had last week and move forward."
He'll be doing all this in front of an audience. He said he has close to 80 friends and family who will be at the game to watch the kid from Naperville, Ill. play on football's biggest stage. He added that it may not exactly equate to that many more Bucs fans, though.
"There should be a pretty strong contingency of '84' jerseys out there but if I had to guess, I'd also bet that half my friends will wear their Bears jerseys," Brate laughed. "It is what it is. A lot of die-hard fans there."