Bucs' Austin Seferian-Jenkins aims to stay on field

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins participates in drills during a practice at the team's training facility, One Buc Place, in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, May 26, 2016. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins participates in drills during a practice at the team's training facility, One Buc Place, in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, May 26, 2016. LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Published June 3, 2016

TAMPA — Austin Seferian-Jenkins reached for the pass and clawed the football away from the defender before heading to the end zone. It was only the second snap from scrimmage during Thursday's practice, but it's the kind of highlight-reel play that has tantalized Bucs fans about the tight end.

So much ability, and yet, Seferian-Jenkins' availability has been a different story.

In two injury-plagued seasons, Seferian-Jenkins has played only 16 games. He is the guy always waiting for an anvil to fall on his head.

He was off to a terrific start last season with seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games. But in that second game, against the Saints, quarterback Jameis Winston threw high to him in the end zone, and Seferian-Jenkins was hit by safety Kenny Vaccaro and injured his right shoulder falling into the end zone.

Seferian-Jenkins won't reveal the exact nature of the injury. It is believed to have been something that required surgery and would have put most players immediately on injured reserve. Instead, Seferian-Jenkins missed the next 10 weeks working to return and responding to critics on social media who called him "soft."

Why did he bother to come back?

"I wanted to win, bro," Seferian-Jenkins said.

He played the final five games of 2015 and added 14 catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns.

"When (the Bucs' record was) 6-6, I wanted a shot," he said. "No way I was shutting it down. I love it too much. It's worth too much. I only get to do this once."

And that is what many people miss about Seferian-Jenkins. Football is important to him, and he works to be great.

"It's everything to me. This is my life," said Seferian-Jenkins, 23. "I love football so much. I've played this game since I was in second grade, and there's nothing more important to me than playing football. Fighting back and pushing through some serious injuries to be out there was all I cared about."

What he didn't care for was the amount of doubters who confronted him on Twitter. Rather than ignore them as white noise, he confronted naysayers, making his account, @Aesj88, an interesting one to follow.

"You troll me, I'm going to troll you," Seferian-Jenkins said, using the social media term for people who deliberately antagonize others. "I'm a normal person. You say something about me, I'm going to say something back, funny or not. I'm just going to be me. It's nothing against them. I'm just doing what you do to me."

Tight ends coach Jon Embree sees the potential in Seferian-Jenkins, 6 feet 5 and 260 pounds, and understands fans' impatience.

"I get it," Embree said. "I don't think the frustration was questioning him. It was maybe (about) how the season was going. … He was in a situation where he really was getting close and working hard to come back and just wasn't able to quite get cleared. When you start talking about some of these issues like range of motion and really being able to protect yourself, it's just hard to have someone go out there and take a chance of maybe ending their career."

Coach Dirk Koetter, who was the Bucs' offensive coordinator last year, agreed.

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"You can't get mad at a player based on injuries," Koetter said. "You can get frustrated about the injuries. That's hard, and I know it's hard for the fans. But you have to realize (players are) trying to get out there and play, and … that's not always in their best interest.

"When Austin is out there, he makes plays."

Seferian-Jenkins says he has learned to take better care of himself off the field. He stays hydrated. He takes Pilates and hot yoga classes to strengthen his core.

"The fans aren't alone. Shoot, I want to see a lot of me on the field," Seferian-Jenkins said. "Hopefully everything works out and you can't worry about those things. That's part of the game; that's part of life, really. You can't go into things worrying about 'what if?' All I can worry about is the work I've put in and the execution, dedication that everyone in the building knows I have for the team.

"If you don't have any adversity, man, what's the point of it?"