TAMPA — Cameron Brate wanted to make his first reception from Tom Brady count. He did just that, corralling a 3-yard pass for the first touchdown in Sunday’s 38-31 win over the Chargers.
A forgotten man in the Bucs offense, Brate had played only 16 offensive snaps in the first three games. He equaled that number on Sunday.
“Honestly, I’m pretty bummed about how the spike went,” Brate said. “That was definitely one of the worst ones. I don’t know if it was the balls or the grass being wet from the rain, but I didn’t get quite the bounce I was hoping for. You know, it’s tough, because Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) is kind of the spike guy. To have a disappointing one right in front of him there, my first one, you know I can’t get that back.”
Bouncing back from nearly a month of inactivity should be easier for Brate.
He will be forced back in the lineup due to the season-ending Achilles injury to O.J. Howard suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.
Howard was having a great season, but his productivity and the trade for Gronkowski meant Brate had to bide his time on the bench.
Now in his seventh season with 2,159 career receiving yards and 28 touchdowns, it was a tough demotion for Brate. The undrafted free agent from Harvard had built a resume worthy of a $4.25 million salary.
But Brate never complained. He knew his role and waited for this opportunity.
“I think Cam’s a pro’s pro,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s always ready (and) we know what he can do. We had him last year, (and) we know what his strengths are, so we can build around that. Tom (Brady) has great trust in him. We all do. And he’s a better blocker than people give him credit for. We’ll do what he does best, and he’ll be a big part of the game plan."
Brate is close to Howard, so getting his opportunity due to injury is not what he wanted.
“I feel terrible for O.J. He was playing great, and I just feel really bad for him with how things worked out,” Brate said. "That’s kind of just the nature of the beast. I was kind of just biding my time there for a little bit, so I’m feeling very fresh. Heading into the short week, I feel like I kind of have the leg up on everyone else. I haven’t been playing too much, but as a football player, you obviously want to play. You feel like you’re contributing, right?
“I kind of had to take the back seat there for the first few weeks. I was still preparing as if I was going to be playing every play, taking all the mental reps and everything like that, and (I was) still getting the work in practice. I feel like from a preparation standpoint I’m ready to go and excited about the opportunity, not just for me, but for other guys to step up, too."
Brate spent a lot of time in the offseason catching footballs from Brady as a consistent member of those workouts at Berkeley Preparatory School. He says that timing hasn’t eroded.
“Going back all the way through the offseason and throughout training camp and still during practice, we’ll get a bunch of reps throughout,” Brate said. “You know, I feel very comfortable with him and I think he feels the same way. I think we feel good where we’re at, and we’re just ready to go.”
If there is a silver lining, on a short week when teams don’t really practice, Brate’s body is fresh and energized.
“For sure, this is definitely the best I’ve felt in a while,” he said. “Obviously, I feel fresh because I didn’t play much in the first two or three games or whatever. Physically, I feel great. Mentally, I feel really locked in, too. I like what we’re doing with the offense. I’ve kind of been waiting and I knew my time would come, so I’m ready for it.”