The Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned all 22 starters from last year’s Super Bowl team, aiming to be the first NFL club to repeat as Lombardi champs since 2003-2004.
Not only did the Bucs bring everyone back, but they also got a potential key piece on offense back from injury: tight end O.J. Howard.
The former first-round pick was relegated to four games last year before an Achilles injury wiped out his season. After Howard missed the postseason run, Tom Brady sees a rejuvenated TE heading into 2021.
“O.J. has worked really hard to put himself in the position he is in,” Brady said Tuesday, per the team’s official transcript. “I think he’s prepared to have a great season. He has worked really hard through training camp, been available to the team — [he’s] a very hard worker and doing all the right things. [I’m] really happy to have him back out there.”
Returning to join Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate in the TE room, Howard is part of a deep offensive group in Tampa. The former first-rounder was on pace to set career-highs last season before the injury struck. In less than four full games, Howard generated 11 catches for 146 yards and two TDs.
With Gronk getting into better form after Howard went down and Brate being a reliable red-zone target, it will be interesting to see how the Bucs integrate Howard into a loaded offense this season. There had been some trade rumors regarding the former first-rounder this offseason, but none came to fruition.
After missing the Bucs’ Super Bowl win, Howard is looking forward to running out of the tunnel with his teammates Thursday night after his grueling recovery.
“It’s going to feel great,” he said. “It’s a moment that I’ve always been playing in my head over and over again. To get back on the field, I’m just so excited. Not just for me to get back out there, but for us to have the fans back also. It’s going to be a big moment so I’m just going to try and stay in it and enjoy it.”
Having a talent like Howard as the fourth, fifth or sixth option in the offense underscores the depth the Bucs sport around Brady. The injury last year wiped out what looked like a promising season. A bounce-back for the former first-rounder who hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to live up to his draft status would be another significant add for the Super Bowl champs.
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