TAMPA – All that talk about Dalvin Cook going to the Buccaneers in the first round of the NFL Draft? We’re not saying it was all a smokescreen but one Bucs decision maker made up his mind regarding tight end O.J. Howard months ago.
“The first day of Senior Bowl practice in pads, (general manager) Jason (Licht) and I were sitting in the stands at about the 35-yard line and O.J. just put on a clinic that day,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said Friday. “After about two periods (of practice) I stood up and said to Jason, ‘I’ve seen the guy I want,’ and I walked back down the stairs.’’
It wasn’t just Howard’s play at the Senior Bowl that impressed the Bucs. The simple fact that he even bothered to play in the All-Star game after already showing off his skills during the National Championship game helped sell the Bucs on him, too.
“We actually had our eye on him as far back as last year, when we thought he might come out early,’’ Licht said. “And when he decided to play in the Senior Bowl, it really wasn’t a surprise to us, because it just spoke to his character.’’
Character, of course, is a big part of why Howard was ranked so high, most analysts expecting him to be drafted somewhere in the top 15 of the draft. Licht said during his research of Howard he literally could not find one person who had anything negative to say about him.
Still, it’s his football skills that make Howard so special but not just his ability to catch a pass. Howard is considered a top-level tight end prospect because he can also block efficiently, something he said he learned to do well and appreciate at Alabama.
“Every day at Alabama we would start off (practice) with the blocking drills in our position (groups) and then (came a) team-run (period) and those are two of the things that we did a lot that helped make me a better blocker,’’ Howard said. “At Alabama, it was either learn how to block or you didn’t get a chance to play a lot, so that really helped me a lot.’’