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Bucs-Colts: Quick starts can help O.J. Howard make a strong finish

Encina’s Early Read: O.J. Howard’s season has been mostly forgettable, but last week, he earned his quarterback’s trust. Now he’s has to carry that over.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard. [Tampa Bay Times]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard. [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 8, 2019

TAMPA — Finish strong. That’s the best Bucs O.J. Howard can do. He can’t dig too deep into the past to explain what went wrong this season. There are four weeks of football to create something positive to build on.

Howard’s struggles have been well-documented. His bad hands were responsible for two turnovers in the Bucs’ season-opening loss to San Francisco.

After he juggled a ball behind his back and into the waiting arms of a Saints linebacker in the Bucs’ Week 11 loss, he watched most of the game from the sideline, playing a season-low 24 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.

Remember, though, Howard is the player who dropped rookie linebacker Devin White’s jaw the first time he had to cover him. “Tight ends don’t run that fast,” White said.

It’s a mystery why one of the Bucs’ biggest mismatches hasn’t been productive, but Howard is coming off his best game of the season. He caught a season-high five balls from 61 yards. Four catches were for more than 10 yards. Three achieved first downs.

“Just trusting it and me getting open,” Howard said of his performance in the Bucs’ 28-11 win in Jacksonville. “We’ve been working on it constantly in practice, Jameis trusting me on being there and trusting in him throwing. It’s the same plays. We’re just finally trusting it.”

The trust factor has many benefits.

“You make a couple plays, get a couple catches and he’s going to trust you later in the game,” Howard said. “It’s just human nature. He’s got to to to his go-to guys when it’s crunch time. That’s why it’s so huge to make plays for the quarterback when your opportunities are there.”

The Colts keep tights ends in check, holding them to 44 receiving yards or fewer in six of their last seven games. They’ve allowed just one touchdown catch to a tight end the last eight games.

As much as Howard would like to finish strong, he’d also like to finish healthy. Each of his first two seasons ended prematurely due to injury. He was on a Pro Bowl pace last season before ankle and foot injury ended his season in Week 12.

Howard missed three weeks following a hamstring injury coming out of the Oct. 20 open week and hasn’t had any physical issues since.

There may not be another Bucs offensive player with more to gain over the final four games than Howard. He started something positive in Jacksonville and now has the chance to put this season’s struggles.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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Sports Day Tampa Bay: Previewing Bucs-Colts


  1. Jason Garrett had success against the Giants as Cowboys coach. Now he will face Dallas as New York's new offensive coordinator. [RON JENKINS  |  AP]
    The recently fired Dallas Cowboys coach stays in the NFC East.
  2. Steve Young was a supplemental draft pick of the Bucs in 1984 and started 19 games for Tampa Bay in 1985 and 1986 before he was traded to the 49ers for a pair of draft picks in 1987. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS [Tampa Bay Times]
    The Hall of Fame quarterback played two seasons with Tampa Bay before winning a Super Bowl with the 49ers
  3. A Super Bowl matchup involving former Buccaneers great John Lynch, left, and the San Francisco 49ers and Ryan Tannehill, right, and the Tennessee Titans could be tough to stomach for Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans. [Associated Press/DIRK SHADD | Times]
    Rick Stroud | For a lot of reasons, including gifting wins to both teams and GMs who got away, this would be a bad match up for Tampa Bay.
  4. Miami LB Shaquille Quarterman (55) during drills for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    “They don’t yet have the mentality of a Miami Hurricane,” the linebacker says during the days leading up to the East-West Shrine Game.
  5. Todd Monken spent two seasons in Tampa Bay, the last as offensive coordinator, before being dismissed along with the rest of head coach Dirk Koetter's staff after the 2018 season.
    Tampa Bay’s former play-caller will be designing game plans for the Bulldogs against the Florida Gators next season.
  6. San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch before an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 11. [TONY AVELAR  |  AP]
    The former Bucs and Broncos safety has his team one win from the Super Bowl.
  7. Florida receiver Josh Hammond (18) on the field during practice for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Plus Plant High product Jake Fruhmorgen’s journey from Clemson to UF to Baylor to the East-West Shrine Game.
  8. Memphis linebacker Bryce Huff gets fired up after a play during a game against SMU at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, Texas. [KYLE OKITA  |]
    Plus more East-West Shrine Game nuggets, including former Navy star quarterback Malcolm Perry practicing at receiver
  9. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston reportedly would be unhappy with a franchise tag of about $27 million on a one-year deal. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The fifth-year starter reportedly wants as much as $30 million per year and would not be keen on a franchise player tag.
  10. USF tight end Mitch Wilcox with a reception during a drill on the field during the East practice for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Tarpon Springs alum insists the Bulls’ disastrous 4-8 season benefited him as he prepares for the NFL draft in this week’s East-West Shrine Game activities.