TAMPA — The Bucs have a rough recent history at the Cardinals' University of Phoenix Stadium, losing 40-7 there last year, but one Tampa Bay player has great memories of playing on that field.
Rookie TE O.J. Howard had a breakout game in the national championship game against Clemson in January 2016, catching five passes for 208 yards and a pair of long touchdowns — 53 and 51 yards — in Alabama's 45-40 win.
"It was incredible — loud, nice field, grass was perfect," Howard said. "Just an amazing atmosphere in that stadium. Coming into it, we knew a lot of the defenses (Clemson was) going to run, and (offensive coordinator Lane) Kiffin just did a great job of setting up plays for the tight ends to be successful. They came out in those defenses, we called those plays, and I executed."
Howard has had a quiet first month in the NFL, with four catches for 92 yards in his first four games, most notably a 58-yard touchdown in a home win against the Giants. He said the experience he has gained has helped him immensely as he adjusts to the NFL game.
"I'm just getting more comfortable every day, coming to work and practicing hard," Howard said. "The little detail things, I'm chomping those things up and allowing myself to play faster."
WR Adam Humphries has stepped up his play late in games this year. He has nine catches for 125 yards in the fourth quarter, more than his production in the first three quarters combined (eight for 82). Humphries had a 38-yard catch to set up a touchdown as the Bucs rallied to beat the Giants and a 20-yard catch in the final minute as they tried to catch the Patriots but fell short.
In all, he ranks eighth in the NFL in fourth-quarter catches and yards, leading the Bucs in both categories.
"He shows up every game," QB Jameis Winston said Thursday. "If you watch a game, you're going to see Adam Humphries having a long run, breaking a tackle, making a fantastic catch. That's just what he is. He's a baller."
The Bucs' injury report was unchanged, with four key defensive players — linebackers Lavonte David (ankle) and Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and safeties T.J. Ward (hip) and S Keith Tandy (hip) — practicing but with limited participation. They remain question marks for Sunday.
The Bucs were again without DE Ryan Russell (shoulder), and if he can't play, they would have only four healthy ends, which might force them to promote one end from the practice squad.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.