Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Dozen Debates: Tight End Duo

The Bucs uncovered a tight end gem in the undrafted Cameron Brate and now have the first first-round TE in franchise history onboard…How will they employ those two passing-game weapons?

Pictures of the Buccaneers' tight ends.

Cameron Brate came to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and his path to playing time included many weeks on the practice squad and even a brief detour to New Orleans. O.J. Howard, the 19th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, holds the distinction of being the first tight end ever selected in the opening round by the Buccaneers.

Together, they may form the most dangerous tight end combination in franchise history.

Pictures of O.J. Howard's first day at One Buc Place.

One thing is for certain: The respective player-acquisition backgrounds for Brate and Howard will not factor into each man's playing time in 2017. What's less certain is how these two dynamic weapons will co-exist in Dirk Koetter's offense.

That's the latest topic as we continue our One Dozen Debates countdown to Training Camp 2017, an ongoing look at the issues that will define this year's camp. From the uncertain depth chart at safety to the presence of *Hard Knocks *to the next step in the development of Jameis Winston, we'll look at one question a day, and that will take us right into the start of football on July 28.

We may not have all the answers just yet, but we'll try to define the issues. Read along with us and each day you can let us know where you stand on each debate.

*Debate #8: How will Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard co-exist? *

We mentioned the manner in which both Brate and Howard arrived in Tampa because it's a bit of a surprise that either one is set to wear the pewter and red.* *

The Bucs signed Brate out of Harvard – not generally considered a football factory – in 2014 and eventually put him on the practice squad, leading to a late-season promotion in his rookie year. Early in 2015, the Bucs released Brate to address shortcoming at another position, and were aghast when he was scooped up by the Saints for their practice squad. That mistake was rectified about a week later when the Bucs re-signed the young tight end to their active roster. In 29 games since, he has caught 80 passes for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last year, he tied San Diego rookie Hunter Henry for the most touchdowns by a tight end, with eight.* *

Howard was a decorated star at Alabama, which is most definitely a pipeline to the NFL. He was thought by many to be a potential top-10 pick in this year's draft, and when he slipped into the Buccaneers' range, the team didn't hesitate to make him the highest-drafted tight end in 42 years of making picks. Howard was widely-considered a draft steal for the Buccaneers, though he obviously has to prove that on the field.* *

So what will the Buccaneers do with those two? The answer to that question may define the team's offense in 2017. And that, in turn, makes it a very important consideration as Tampa Bay seeks its first playoff berth since 2007.* *

Mike Evans is already a Pro Bowler and will surely remain the number-one option in the Bucs' passing attack following a 2016 campaign in which he caught 96 passes for 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns. Thanks to free agency, Evans has a dangerous new running mate in DeSean Jackson, who lead the NFL in yards per reception last year and is exactly the speedy deep threat the team needed. Adam Humphries is a good weapon in the slot and the 2017 draft also brought promising wide receiver Chris Godwin in the third round.* *

On paper, the Buccaneers are loaded. That potential still needs to translate into results on the field, and the manner in which both Howard and Brate are utilized could be the difference between a good passing offense and a great one.* *

First, consider this quote from the first time Koetter spoke about the drafting of Howard: "I'm the first to admit that I love tight ends." Indeed, Koetter has gotten very good production from the position during his time in Tampa, Atlanta (Tony Gonzalez, at the end of his Hall of Fame career) and Jacksonville (Marcedes Lewis, who made the Pro Bowl). Now, also realize that the Buccaneers have ranked eighth and seventh in Koetter's two years in terms of rushing attempts per game, even though the 2017 edition of Tampa Bay's ground attack was far worse than the year before.* *

A two-TE offense is a great set for a rushing attempt, but it can be deceptive and dangerous if it's used to pass the ball. That's particularly true if both tight ends on the field are capable of running great routes and blocking defensive ends. That's the exact scouting report on Howard, which was why he was a first-round pick. Brate, who didn't block much in college, is improving in the second category but is obviously a threat in the passing game already.* *

Last year, Tampa Bay ranked 22nd in passes thrown out of a two-TE set, according to Statspass. Jameis Winston had a stellar 103.4 passer rating on those plays…but that only ranked 14th in the league. There were 10 teams that had a passer rating of 110 or better in those situations, and Detroit led the league at 144.4 (albeit on a very small number of attempts). The takeaway is obvious: If you can line up in a run-heavy set but still have dangerous weapons on the field in the passing game, that's a tough combination for the opposing defense.* *

That would seem doubly true near the end zone, where Brate has already proven himself to be a legitimate threat. All eight of his touchdowns last year came on plays where the ball was snapped inside the red zone. With Howard, Brate and red-zone monster Mike Evans all on the field, the Bucs may be hard to stop near the goal line.* *

That's what the Buccaneers hope they have assembled in the duo of Brate and Howard, surrounded by an otherwise explosive group of wide receivers. Will that prove to be true? That's one of the issues we'll be watching closely in training camp and the preseason games.

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