The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be banged up, but Bruce Arians doesn’t have any regrets about one questionable move.
Starting tight end Rob Gronkowski has been sidelined since suffering multiple rib injuries and a punctured lung against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 3. Although he may return in Week 7 against the Chicago Bears, that would be after missing three consecutive games.
The decision not to place Gronkowski on injured reserve means that the Buccaneers have used a roster spot on their injured tight end for the past three weeks. It actually led to the loss of defensive end Khalil Davis, a 2020 draft pick of Tampa Bay. Davis was claimed off of waivers by the Indianapolis Colts just days after he was waived by the Bucs.
However, Arians doesn’t regret the decision, the Buccaneers head coach said the following during his media availability on Friday, October 15.
“We didn’t need a roster spot at that time, so we’re good,” Arians said, via The Athletic’s Greg Auman.
While the move hasn’t cost the Buccaneers any victories — they’re 3-0 in Gronkowski’s absence — it did cost them one of their prospects in the process. And Tampa Bay has operated with just two tight ends over the past weeks in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard.
If one of those tight ends goes down due to injury during Gronkowski’s absence, that could create major problems for Tampa Bay in two tight end formations.
Howard Emerges in Gronkowski’s Absence
During the team’s light walkthrough on Tuesday, October 19, Gronkowski was not available, according to Auman. Arians is still uncertain regarding Gronkowski’s status and it looks like his availability will be determined later on in the week.
“Hopefully. It’s been another week. So we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Arians during media availability on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Howard has emerged as quite the target in Gronkowski’s absence. The former first-round draft pick has been a disappointment thus far during his NFL career, but he stepped up in a 28-22 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6.
Howard caught six passes on seven targets for 49 yards and a touchdown. That was his best performance since catching three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown in a Week 4 game against the Los Angeles Chargers last season — the game in which he tore his Achilles, ending his season.
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Arians on Howard: ‘He’s Doing a Heck of a Job’
Needless to say, the young tight end’s performance has caught the eye of Arians.
“He was scratching the surface (last year),” said Arians on Tuesday. “He was really coming on like gangbusters last year when he got hurt. And that’s a hard injury to get over. It’s a 12-month job and he’s doing a heck of a job right now.”
Upon Gronkowski’s injury, Brate was initially the team’s starting tight end for their Week 4 matchup versus the New England Patriots. However, he’s quickly fallen out of favor — especially in the passing game for Tom Brady — over the past couple of weeks.
Brate has seen action in just 72 of 149 possible snaps (48.3 percent) over the past two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Howard has seen action in 93 of 149 possible snaps (62.4%).
Howard’s receiving grade far exceeds Brate’s, at 75.9 to 57.1, according to PFF. In fact, it’s the third-best mark on the team, only behind Gronkowski and Antonio Brown.
If Gronkowski is once again sidelined for Sunday’s game against the Bears, expect Brady and the Bucs to lean heavily on Howard once again.