TAMPA — A busy offseason has helped the Bucs' passing game get deeper and decidedly faster, and in the case of rookie tight end Antony Auclair, even more bilingual.
As the second day of rookie minicamp wrapped up Saturday afternoon, Auclair was conversing in French with a reporter dispatched to One Buc Place from Journal de Quebec, proving that the interest in the Bucs is now in fact international.
"It's cool, but football in Canada is getting bigger every year," said Auclair, who played with his younger brother Adam at Université Laval, a French-language university in Quebec City with an enrollment of about 48,000, comparable to USF. Their mascot is the Rouge et Or — the red and gold.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter first saw Auclair in January in St. Petersburg at practice for the East-West Shrine Game, where he was impressed by his 6-foot-5, 256-pound frame. The Bucs expected him to be a draft pick, and were thrilled to sign him after the draft.
"I'm very surprised he wasn't drafted," Koetter said Saturday. "We had him with a draftable grade and we feel very fortunate to get him. You look at him and (first-round pick) O.J. (Howard) standing right next to each other, two really good-looking guys."
The Bucs have four players in rookie minicamp with Canadian ties — receiver Derel Walker and linebacker Jeff Knox played the last two seasons in the CFL, and Auclair personally knows tryout linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, who he played with in 2010 in a Canadian all-star event as teenagers; the two trained together for the draft this spring in Tennessee.
The first adjustment Auclair had to make this week was, of course, to the weather — while it was gloriously mild Saturday, a breezy 75 degrees in Tampa, back home in Quebec the low was 35 degrees on Thursday, with a high of 50 on Saturday.
"Today is warm for me," Auclair said, bracing for what he'll face in training camp in August.
There are logistical changes most prospects don't have to encounter — Canadian football is played with 12 on each side, with a much larger field, 12 yards wider than American football, 110 yards long with 20-yard end zones. In Canada, defensive linemen must line up 1 yard off the line of scrimmage, but now they are a more physical challenge, closer to him, forcing faster reactions from the snap.
Playing in the Shrine Game helped introduce him to that, and he'll continue to get comfortable in tighter quarters.
"It helped me to adapt to American football, so now I can just play and not think as much," he said.
At Laval, Auclair's position was centre-arrière — which translates closer to fullback — and he had modest numbers, catching 17 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns in eight games as a senior. But physically, he's 6 pounds heavier and an inch shorter than Howard, potentially giving the Bucs two more tight ends who are big enough to block and catch.
Auclair and the other rookies will go home for one week, then return to Tampa for five weeks of OTAs and then mandatory minicamp in mid June. After that, they gather at the end of July for the start of training camp.
"It's great, because everything is different," said Auclair, who will use the summer to learn his new offense, if not the climate. "And I have to adapt myself to this weather."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.