NFL training camp is finally here! That means were incredibly close to finally seeing meaningful football for the first time in months. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been breaking down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster.
This weeks I take a closer look at a position that will be prove to be very important to the Bucs this coming season, the tight ends.
Current Tight Ends: Cameron Brate, OJ Howard, Alan Cross, Antony Auclair, Donnie Ernsberger, Jason Reese, Tanner Hudson
Projected Starters: OJ Howard and Cameron Brate
If Bucs’ fans could find any silver lining in last season it was in the fact that the team has one of the best tight end duos in the NFL. Both Cameron Brate and OJ Howard finished in the top 20 among tight ends in receiving yards and top 10 in touchdowns. Expect the duo to continue to dominate this season.
Brate is having the kind of career someone can root for. He was undrafted coming out of Harvard in 2014 and has been cut by the Bucs on three separate occasions. But that hasn’t stopped him from working hard and performing at a high level. Brate has finally gotten his chance to shine and hasn’t looked back. Over the past two seasons, he’s racked up 1,251 yards and his 14 touchdowns are third among all tight ends over that span. The Bucs rewarded Brate this offseason by signing him to a six-year $40.8 million deal.
Howard’s arrival in Tampa was unexpected. Coming out of Alabama, no one expected him to slip all the way to 19th in the 2017 draft. Even with Brate on the roster, the Bucs couldn’t pass him up. Howard is an incredibly gifted athlete that is more than capable of being a productive blocking and receiving tight end. As a rookie, he finished with only 432 yards but hauled in six touchdowns, tied for most on the team with Brate. With more usage expect Howard’s impact to be felt even more this season.
Primary Backups: Antony Auclair, Alan Cross
The Buccaneers used five tight ends in total last season but ended the year with only four. After Luke Stocker was released in November the team was in need of a new blocking tight end. Enter Antony Auclair. The undrafted rookie from Canada stepped right in and was used as the Bucs primary blocking tight end. In an interview with Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, tight end coach Ben Steele talked about where he sees Auclair fitting in.
“I’m really excited about Auclair, Obviously we’ve got some time late in the season when O.J. was hurt. He missed all of last season’s OTAs with a hamstring injury. Those reps were invaluable because he’s still trying to learn the offense. Well now he’s got a full offseason [to develop] the strength and the power that he has as a blocker. A guy that’s 270, or high 260s, and can run like he can – I’m excited by what he’s going to bring to the table. We’ve got a great group of tight ends.”
Alan Cross is the fourth tight end expected to make the active roster come opening weekend. He’ll take a similar role to Auclair in mostly blocking situations but has also been used as a fullback in some formations. I don’t expect Cross to see the field a whole lot again this season and he could end up bouncing around from the active roster to the practice squad.
Fighting For Roster Spot: Donnie Ernsberger, Jason Reese, Tanner Hudson
Teams rarely carry four tight ends on their roster and they definitely don’t carry more than that. Cross will have to beat out these three guys in order to make the roster.
Donnie Ernsberger went undrafted out of Western Michigan but was a priority signing by the Bucs soon after. He doesn’t do anything great but is a decent blocker and a solid pass catcher. Despite having the best shot of the group, Ernsberger has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to make the cut.
Jason Reese and Tanner Hudson were also undrafted signings but will find trouble finding a roster spot especially going up against so much talent.