A year ago, when Antony Auclair made the Bucs' roster as an undrafted rookie, the Canadian import was already the largest tight end at 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds.
That's even more the case now as he heads into his second season with the confidence that comes with a year in an NFL workout regimen.
"I put on 14 pounds. I was 256 last year, and now I'm 270," the 25-year-old Auclair said. "I can shield the defender, and I'm bigger on blocks."
Video: Bucs JUGS machine getting lots of use after practice, like second-year tight end Antony Auclair here. pic.twitter.com/LRb3B4YEwu— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 1, 2018
Auclair was inactive for eight of his first nine games last season, but then dressed for his last seven, catching two passes for 25 yards. He said the familiarity of spending a year, not only with the Bucs but in the United States, has helped him immensely.
"It's a completely different world," said Auclair, still proudly wearing a "Rouge et Or" (red and gold) shirt from Université Laval, where he attended in Quebec. "I've got a place to stay. I know my teammates. I know the playbook, and I'm more confident than last year for sure. My English got better too, and that's a big thing."
The Bucs have two elite tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, who each had six touchdown catches last season, but Auclair is eager to show where he's improved since his rookie year.
"I want to be more consistent," he said. "I think that's really important in this league. I want to be really consistent blocking for sure, and I want to be a better route runner, better at catching the ball."
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said Auclair's strength has been his blocking, but he's working to become a more complete tight end.
"All these tight ends, they don't want to be categorized. They want to do everything," Koetter said. "They want to be part O.J. Howard, part Cam Brate and Antony's working hard at his game. He's been getting more reps lately and taking advantage of it."
Auclair had one catch for 5 yards in Thursday's preseason opener at Miami, and said this week's joint practices with the Titans as he works to understand a new defense and how it might be exploited.
"I got surprised a little bit in the first game with different looks," he said. "What I have to get better at is identifying those looks and getting better. This week is a totally different defense, a good way for me to get better."
Auclair and Alan Cross look to have the backup tight end jobs pretty well wrapped up, but Auclair said that hasn't changed from last year is his approach to battling for a roster spot.
"I'm still playing as if I have to make the team, because nothing is guaranteed in this league," he said. "But I'm really excited. I think we're doing good things right now."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.