Tampa Bay Buccaneers

O.J. Howard: Bucs Tight Ends are Mismatches

The addition of Rob Gronkowski gives Tampa Bay a tight end room full of matchup problems, but it might be a better grasp of that offense that helps O.J. Howard even more in 2020

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have number 12 at the helm of their offense now, and that might lead to more "12" personnel on the field in 2020.

That's TB12, of course, also known as Tom Brady or simply the G.O.A.T. Brady chose the Buccaneers in free agency after 20 years with the Patriots, and subsequently his old New England pal Rob Gronkowskichose to come out of retirement and play in Tampa, too. The result is a tight end room that is loaded with speed, size, athleticism and – most of all – potential. Gronkowski joins O.J. Howard and Cameron Brateas a trio of proven producers at the position, and the Bucs also have attractive depth in Antony Auclair, Tanner Hudson and Codey McElroy.

With all of that tight end talent, the Buccaneers will likely utilize their 12 packages more – that's a grouping of one back, two receivers and two tight ends. Head Coach Bruce Arians has already said he anticipates using that package more than he did in 2019, when the Bucs were in 12 personnel on 20% of their snaps. That was actually a bit above the league average in terms of frequency or use, but it will likely go higher this year. The reason: With two or three of those tight ends on the field at the same time, opposing defenses are going to have difficulty choosing what kind of personnel to put on their side to counteract them.

"We definitely are going to have opportunities to make plays," said Howard. "We've got a room full of talent, mismatches, guys all over the board. I think Coach [Arians] and [Offensive Coordinator] Byron [Leftwich] are going to do a great job of just putting us in positions to make plays.

View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

"Just being on the field with [Gronkowski], 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."

Gronkowski is 6-6 and around 260 pounds and it's almost unfair that he can both work the seams and run through defenders like a wrecking ball. Howard is 6-6 and 250 and possesses top-end speed for the position. He, too, can make big plays down the field. Brate is 6-5 and 245 and has been one of the NFL's best red zone threats for the past four years.

The Bucs have the talent and they have creative offensive minds to utilize it. What they didn't have in 2019 was outstanding production from the tight end position. Howard started the season slowly and finished with 34 catches and 459 yards, his yards per game dropping by 42% from 2018. Brate had a few more catches (35) but fewer yards (311), though he did score another six touchdowns. But that tight end room didn't have Gronkowski last year and it also didn't have as good of a grasp on the offense as it does now.

Howard says that Gronkowski has already helped out his new tight end teammates with tips on footwork in the run game and how to refine certain routes. That will help, but the bigger difference is likely to come from the mental progression.

"I think the biggest thing for O.J. was just learning what we're trying to teach," said Arians. "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. 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 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."

Howard admits that the tight end's responsibilities in the new offense were difficult to absorb, but that process is now behind him.

"It's always a tough position in a lot of offenses from the different things they ask you to do in the position," he said. "But here, like coach said, it was kind of a different level taken to it with some of the things we had to learn in the offense. Last year it took some getting used to. Year Two has slowed down for everyone in our room. … Year Two, like I said, is a lot simpler. It makes a lot more sense and now it's making sense to all of us in the room."

And that could make problems for opposing defenses when the Bucs have 12 and 12 on the field in 2020.

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