Bucs first-round pick O.J. Howard certainly could have had more passes thrown his way in three years at Alabama, but part of what makes him a great player is the unselfish way he carried himself, former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said Friday.
"He's a phenomenal kid and a team leader. Really one of the hardest-working guys I've ever been around," said Kiffin, now the head coach at Florida Atlantic after three years coaching Howard at Alabama. "I was there three years, and on offense we had guys that set the tone for how they worked. It wa Amari Cooper, the next year it was Derrick Henry, and last year it was O.J. Howard. I think he learned from those guys and now he's passed that down to the next guys there."
Kiffin said there was much outside criticism of how Howard was utilized last season -- he totaled 14 catches and one touchdown in the first seven games, all lopsided wins, as Alabama eased in a freshman quarterback -- but the senior handled his role without any complaint.
"Completely unselfish," Kiffin said. "He could have been a distraction this year, because everybody's in his head saying 'You're not catching the ball as much as this guy or this guy, so you're not doing to get drafted.' I called him in after the first couple of weeks, just told him 'Don't worry. That's not going to have anything to do with your draft status. Don't listen to all the people saying that.' And he said 'Coach, I don't care. I just want to win.' It could have been difficult ... he was completely unselfish. It's awesome to see he's the first tight end taken."
Kiffin remembers how well Howard stepped up in the national championship game against Clemson, catching five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns, and it showcased his athleticism and the mismatches he can create.
"They blew some coverages, but a lot of that because we were going so fast and he was getting lined up in exotic places, because he's such an athletic freak," he said. "He can be a receiver or a tight end. They lose him. He always played big in big games."