Days after Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard glaringly dropped three passes, head coach Bruce Arians gave the veteran a vote of confidence.
“O.J. is going to get there; he’s still rusty,” Arians said in Monday’s press conference.
Howard made three drops in the Bucs’ 34-3 preseason loss to Tennessee on Aug. 21. Those drops included a glaring one in the first quarter. Greg Auman of The Athletic called it “just a straight drop” by Howard that stymied the Bucs offense.
Howard finished with three catches for 24 yards, catching half of his targets. Arians explained right after the game that Howard “is shaking off a hell of a lot of rust” due to coming back from a season-ending Achilles injury in 2020 and missed time at this year’s training camp.
“Yeah, it’s not concerning because he came back and caught the ball on some grimier ones, but those (drops) were easy ones. He’s made those in practice,” Arians said.
The coach also critiqued Howard’s choice of gloves impacting one target in the game.
“There’s a time when you got to switch gloves, too, when they get too wet, and I think the one just squirted right through his hands, but after that, he caught everything,” Arians said.
Howard’s play didn’t concern backup quarterback Ryan Griffin, either.
“You guys have all seen O.J. play, he’s a good player,” Griffin said. “So just getting the confidence back for a lot of people is all it is. Getting in there, seeing live action, getting practice reps, I mean, he’s just getting better and better. Started off a little shaky, but then he gets back in his groove and you see he’s fine.”
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Bucs Receiver Bubble Watch
Bucs receivers trying to make the final 53-man roster put themselves in a tough spot after the Aug. 21 performance.
“Too many dropped passes. To start ballgames, that kills drives,” Arian said.
Jaydon Mickens dropped three passes and caught one for negative yardage, T.J. Simmons missed on two targets, and tight end Codey McElroy took a step back with no catches on two incompletions. Cyril Grayson earned some positive feedback from Arians as the veteran made four catches for 57 yards, including a 35-yard reception, but also dropped four passes.
“Cyril showed up a little bit, having been hurt all week with an injury,” Arians said.
Grayson spent last season on the practice squad. Another Buc who spent time on the practice squad before moving up to the active roster last season, tight end Tanner Hudson, had a mostly strong showing against the titans.
He led the team with six receptions for 74 yards on seven targets. On the downside, he fumbled and lost the ball once.
Second-year receiver Tyler Johnson had some good moments on Saturday with two catches for 21 yards after coming out of Arians’ doghouse for showing up to training camp out of shape.
One Last Chance for Bubble Bucs Hopefuls
Remaining Bucs on the roster bubble who survive the next round of cuts get one more chance on Aug. 28 at Houston. They’ll get only one half of football to prove themselves though as Arians plans to play starters for the first half.
“Because we’ve got so long before we play. I mean, we can’t go against Dallas, who is really good, and all of a sudden play game speed,” Arians said. “I mean, we’ve got to have some game speed under our belt before we show up against the Cowboys.”
That’s a ball the Bucs can’t afford to drop.