Rob Gronkowski isn’t the only Buccaneers’ tight end Tom Brady has eyes for.
With training camp in full swing beneath a sweltering Florida sun, Brady is swooning over O.J. Howard while the heat punishes the 31-year-old Gronkowski as he struggles “to get into Florida shape.”
“He’s probably in New England shape right now. He’s not in Florida shape. The heat’s kicking his ass pretty good,” head coach Bruce Arians said on Monday. “It’s different, man. When you train in New England and come down here, it’s different. We laughed about it out there today. I don’t think he’s ever sweat that much in his life.
“So it takes a little time to get into the Florida shape, but as far as playing a game he’s more than ready right now.”
Gronkowski made the surprising move to un-retire after an one-year hiatus and was traded to Tampa Bay shortly after Brady jumped ship in March. Though the five-time Pro Bowler attended college in Arizona, he had spent his nine-year NFL career playing in a much more temperate climate in Foxboro, Mass.
He joins a crowded tight end room alongside 29-year-old Cameron Brate and the 25-year-old Howard, whom it appears Brady has begun grooming.
“Juice! Keep those shoulders square,” Brady instructed of Howard via Peter King of Pro Football Talk. “Right here! Last minute. … Catch it on your hip.”
King added that Howard’s connection with his new QB is so deep that the tight end wouldn’t be traded after rumors ran rampant following the Gronkowski addition.
“Over Tom Brady’s dead body,” King wrote.
The 6-foot-6, 251-pound Alabama product with 4.51-speed was selected No. 19 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft after a prolific NCAA career and a strong performance at the combine. He hopes the change at signal-caller will be the necessary catalyst to fix “bad habits” on the heels of a disappointing, 459-yard, one-touchdown season in 2019.
“That’s Tom coaching me. Tom’s been coaching a lot of guys one-on-one,” Howard said. “When Tom does that, it’s huge for me to hear. I worked on that all offseason, a bad habit I had to break. He puts it in my head every day. That’s what a true leader does. He does it in a humble way. So chill. That’s Tom Brady, one of the best to ever play our game, and every day he’s got something for me to make me better.”
“He’s come in and he’s got a great handle on it right now,” Arians said of Howard. “Rob’s helped him confidence wise, seeing how good he is and telling him how good he is. When you got a guy like Gronkowski and Brady telling you you’re good, you’re probably pretty good. I think that’s helped, but O.J. is playing really, really well right now.”
After a season of palpable frustration with the Patriots’ inert offense, 43-year-old Brady now has an enviable arsenal of weapons at his disposal. Along with the tight end trio, he has wideouts Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, both of whom finished in the top 12 at the position in total receiving yards last season.
So how will all of these talented pass-catchers fit into the offense? Arians hopes to deploy them in creative ways, and has explicitly expressed his love for two- and three-tight end sets.
“I love 13. I love three tight ends out there. We have a package, if you don’t know how to stop it, it can hurt you,” he said in June. “Eleven (one RB, one TE and three WRs) is kind of the standard in the league now, but I’m really anxious to see the third, fourth, fifth receivers fight it out for that spot. But I know 12’s going to be a hell of a — 12 personnel (one RB, two TEs and two WRs), we’ve got. We’ve got that for sure.”
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