Forgotten Bucs Star Is ‘Really Close’ to Return, Coach Says

OJ Howard

Getty O.J. Howard goes for a slam dunk after a touchdown in 2017.

Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians sees the team’s health trending in the right direction ahead of the June minicamp, especially with forgotten star tight end O.J. Howard ready to return.

Howard ruptured his Achilles tendon early in the 2020 season, which sidelined him for the rest of the year. He made an impact in four games played with 11 receptions, 146 yards, and two touchdowns as quarterback Tom Brady got acclimated to a new team. Arians expects to have Howard back on the field soon.

“I see O.J. every day. Yeah, he’s really close now,” Arians told the media on May 15 per Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams. “He looks fantastic working out every day.”

Bucs tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate filled the void in 2020. Gronkowski caught 45 passes for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. Brate had 28 receptions for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Their contributions and the Bucs’ title run more than filled the void Howard left after the early-season injury.

Howard will rejoin a crowded tight end room as the Bucs also have Tanner Hudson and Codey McElroy on the roster. Tampa also added recent Houston Texans veteran Jerrell Adams to the tight end room.

Williams reported that Howard is expected to participate in the Bucs’ June minicamp.

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“Real Good Chance” for Cappa to Return Soon

Tampa could also have guard Alex Cappa back on the field for minicamp, but Arians couldn’t confirm for certain. Cappa broke his ankle in the Bucs’ Wild Card game at Washington in January.

“I haven’t seen Cap,” Arians said per Williams. “He’ll be in soon, but from what I’m hearing, he’s working out really, really well and doing well. I can say there’s a real good chance, (but) I can’t swear to it.”

Cappa had a strong 2020 season and held the lead for Pro Bowl fan voting at his position into December per Sports Illustrated’s All Bucs. He ultimately didn’t make the cut as the Bucs only had linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul make the Pro Bowl.

Tampa added offensive line depth in the draft with Robert Hainsey from Notre Dame in the third round.

Whitehead Doubtful for June

Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead, who tore his labrum in the NFC Championship game, has a murkier outlook than Howard and Cappa for the June minicamp.

“I don’t know if I’ll let him go, but he’s looking really good,” Arians told reporters per Sports Illustrated’s All Bucs.

Whitehead had a solid season in 2020 for the Bucs with 53 tackles, two interceptions, and four pass deflections.

Tampa addressed secondary depth in the draft with cornerback Chris Wilcox from BYU in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.

Tryon Misses Rookie Camp

Tampa first-round draft pick Joe Tryon didn’t participate in the Bucs rookie minicamp May 14-15 due to a recent knee scope.

Arians said Tryon “did something when he was working out” per The Athletic’s Greg Auman. The Bucs also knew about it at the time of drafting him, Auman reported. The Bucs took Tryon with the 32nd pick in last month’s draft out of Washington.

Tryon participated in “virtual classroom activity” and worked with trainers during camp per’s Carmen Vitali.

Tryon is expected to return to the field for the June minicamp per Auman.

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