Can Bucs’ Howard turn into the new Jimmie Giles?

by Gary Shelton on May 3, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Giles could turn into a solid weapon for the Bucs./PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA

Howard could turn into a solid weapon for the Bucs./PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Sometime early in his career, perhaps the first time he sets foot in Raymond James Stadium, O.J. Howard is sure to look toward the sky.

It's an impressive stadium, one that Howard surely remembers from his national championship game against Clemson. But it will be quieter this time, and there will be some time for him to look around.

At one point, Howard will probably saunter up to fellow tight end Cameron Brate. He may elbow him, and point toward the ring of honor.

“So,” Howard might say. “Who is this 'Jimmie Giles' cat?”

And Brate will grin.

“Why, O.J.,” Brate will say. “He's you.”

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In a way, he is, you know. For all the Joe Lunchpail guys that the Bucs have started at tight end, the position pretty much comes down to Jimmie Giles and the Pips in Tampa Bay. In all the seasons, in all the games, there has really been only one tight end to play for the Bucs. You can find his name in the Ring of Honor: Jimmie Giles.

Giles had more ability than anyone else the Bucs had. He was a fast receiver, and he was a good blocker, and for a while, he was the favorite target of Doug Williams. More than anyone else in those early years of the Bucs, he knew his way to the end zone.

And now, there is another.

Now, there is Howard. The New Jimmie Giles.

Want to know what Howard can become? Look at those old tapes of the Bucs and the way Giles would split a secondary. Oh, Giles never had the wide receivers that Howard will have on either side of him. In a different time in this game, Doug Williams never had a 4,000-yard season (Jameis Winston has had two).

Still, they both could cause nightmares for a team trying to match up their coverage. Giles once scored four touchdowns against the Dolphins in 1985, and Don Shula famously said that tight ends didn't do to his team what Giles did. From the time the Bucs traded their No. 1 overall pick (Earl Campbell) for Giles and the rights to Williams, they were a pair.

Four times, Giles made the Pro Bowl. It's still the second-most (behind Mike Alstott) for a Bucs' offensive  player. He caught 279 passes for 4300 yards. He scored 34 touchdowns.

Still, you can debate the pick. Campbell is a Hall of Famer, and the draft picks that the Bucs picked up turned out to be Williams, linebacker Brett Moritz, defensive end Reggie Lewis and quarterback Chuck Fusina. But Giles and Williams were solid.

Except for Giles, the history of tight end for the Bucs is a mixed bag. They had some tough guys, and they had some good receivers. But rarely did they have both.

In the first season of the Bucs, the immortal Bob Moore had 23 catches for 281 yards. But he was gone by the next year, replaced by the legendary Dana Nafziger. Giles took over for seven years afterward, and then good soldiers such as Calvin MaGee and Ron Hall followed. Kellen Winslow Jr. caught a lot of passes (but didn't have a lot of blocks) in his time here. Jackie Harris was okay. Dave Moore was good. Tim Wright was a good guy to have if you needed to trade someone. Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be counted on if you needed a senseless penalty.

But none of them made the Pro Bowl.

Last year, the season Cameron Brate had for the Bucs (57 catches, eight touchdowns) was one of the best, which was why it was hard for many to buy into the tight end talk when it was about David Njoku during the draft. But once Howard fell, it was a slam dunk of a choice. The Bucs, who have chased so many tight ends across so many goal lines over the years, finally had potential of their own. Tony Gonzales. Jimmie Graham. Mark Chmura. Alge Crumpler. Jeremy Shockey. Jason Witten. The kind of guys to make you envious of having such a weapon.

Once, in a game against Detroit, Sam Wyche called a play in which Ron Hall fell down coming off the line of scrimmage. Nothing unusual there; Bucs' tight ends fell down all the time. This time, though, Hall stood up and caught a pass for a winning score. It was brilliant. If there was ever a play where the offensive tackle was pancaked and the running back thrown for a loss of three, the Bucs would have been onto something.

The thing is, most of us like tight ends. There is a particular blend of skills — half lineman, half receiver — that we admire. They have to be tough, and they have to be fast, and they have to have hands. It is also one of those positions where you can see effort, or the lack of it. The good ones leave safeties behind; the bad ones are covered by linebackers.

Howard is a rookie. He's got a ways to go.

But picture Evans to his right and Jackson to his left and Chris Godwin in the slot and Winston behind him. Picture him running down the sideline. Picture Winston, a quarterback who has always appreciated his tight ends, throwing.

Even now, it leaves you with a smile, doesn't it?

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