Cameron Brate’s come a long way in a relatively short amount of time since leaving the Ivies to take a crack at a career in the NFL.
In two years, Tampa Bay’s 25-year-old tight end elevated himself from an undrafted rookie practice squader in 2014 to an impact performer on the active roster last season. It’s a brief but impressive journey that included a quick stint in New Orleans at the beginning of last year after being cut and resigned by the Buccaneers by Week 3.
It’s a good story and Brate’s still getting used to his NFL reality, but that doesn’t mean he’s content with last year’s 23-catch, 288-yard, three-touchdown effort. Much of his offseason was spent working on his body and his conditioning in preparation for what could be a big year for the Harvard grad.
“I tried get stronger. That’s the goal every year for me,” Brate said after practice Friday. “I’m coming in a couple pounds heavier than I was in the spring, about 5 pounds. So I’m thinking that’s going to help me out as far as blocking goes, but I’ve also been working on my speed.”
The ability to run solid routes, get open and catch the football are Brate’s known commodities. Now he needs his blocking to catch up to become a more complete, all-around tight end. After going through Friday’s one-hour, 45-minute practice, Brate spent some extra time with undrafted rookie tight end Alan Cross working on his footwork and shooting out of his stance at the line.
“In college I was basically a receiver,” Brate said. “That’s pretty much always what I’ve been: Tight end in name, but mostly a pass catcher. I just have to keep improving in as many ways as I can. I’m going to try and be more physical this year blocking.”
Luke Stocker and Brandon Myers have filled the role of blocking-situation tight ends in recent years and Brate’s ability to stay on the field will only improve his effectiveness as a pass catcher.
Watching the increase in playing time and personal stats is one thing, but Brate’s focus Friday kept going back to a team-centric mindset when responding to questions. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder dittoed fellow offensive players interviewed since Thursday in expressing their anticipation for Year 2 in the Dirk Koetter-designed, Jameis Winston-engineered offense.
“It’s definitely a cool feeling,” Brate said of his arrival as a contributor last year. “The coaches, they trust me, and that’s something I take pride in … knowing what to do. So I’ve just got to build off of last year. Our offense did a lot of good things and there are a lot of areas we need to work on, as well. It seemed like every game we gained 500 yards but we just didn’t get enough points, so that’s obviously going to be a big emphasis moving forward.
“But everyone’s comfortable with this being the second year in Dirk’s offense and everyone’s got another year working with Jameis, too, as far as getting our timing down and building a good connection with him, so we’re all really excited.”
The yards-per-game weren’t quite 500 for Tampa Bay last season, but Brate was on point with his reflection. The Bucs’ 375.9-yard average ranked fifth in the NFL, yet that ball movement resulted in just 21.4 points per game, or 20th in the league.
All too often in 2015, trips to the red zone ended with field goals or nothing at all. The Bucs ranked 22nd in red-zone efficiency, crossing the goal line 52.9 percent of the time.
Koetter and the Bucs will take anyone stepping up to become a reliable, trusted asset inside opponents’ 20 this year, but the first-time NFL head coach has specifically praised Brate’s effectiveness when fields get short. “He’s got an uncanny ability to show up in the red zone and did so again today,” Koetter said after a mini-camp practice last month.
With Koetter calling the shots not only as the offensive coordinator but as the head coach, there could be a little shakeup at the tight end position by the time Week 1 rolls around. Brate, Myers, Stocker and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are all back in camp, joined by unproven younger options in Cross, Kivon Cartwright and Tevin Westbrook. Sixth-round draft pick Dan Vitale is also in the mix, but his position has yet to be clearly defined. The Northwestern product is listed currently as a fullback but held the tight end designation last month.
the first time asj goes down I hope Brate takes the job and runs with it.
Go Bucs !!!
I believe, unless ASJ has a spectacular camp, Brate will be the opening day starter. Go Bucs!
ASJ, Brate, Stocker all will be playing in every game if they stay healthy.
ASJ needs to really step up, but I am concerned he did not get himself physically and mentally ready to play.
Why do we always have a designated whipping boy on whom we cast greater scrutiny than the rest of the rostered players? Most often our intolerance for a legitimate injury puts those on the mend in the running for MVP; as in “Most Vilified Player”. Gerald McCoy, one of our best players, still has detractors if he smiles. Doug Martin during his two down years had fans wanting him cut. Mike Evans, in spite of being the leading receiver last season, has some folks just waiting to see a dropped pass. JonnyG never lets up on Luke Stocker who, as only a 4th round draft pick, is still contributing when most are out of the league.
Now ASJ has become the front runner for MVP and the primary target of fans and media before Training Camp has barely begun. So, how did ASJ achieve this distinction? Like this election year, let’s take a look back at his achievements. He took a path much like those of his MVP predecessors. #1.) Did something spontaneous but immature like a Captain Morgan pose to draw a BS penalty. #2.) Did something in frustration like throw a ball away to draw another penalty. #3.) Showed some unnecessary excitement and give the few fans left in the stands something to cheer about during the Tennessee debacle. #4.) Got tossed from a voluntary off season practice. And, what will put ASJ ahead in the polls for MVP #5.) Had a legitimate injury.
It’s a brand new season. Fans are cautiously optimistic. We will be a much better team if ASJ shows some maturity, stays injury free and shows his rare talent for which opponents will have to game plan against. Can we and the media at least let Training Camp play out before we anoint ASJ this years MVP? As is the case with McCoy, Martin and Evans, we need him.
ASJ is the “MVP,” the “Most Vanquished Player” because he has spent the majority of his time on the injury list instead of the field. Thus, earning himself the moniker; “The Admiral.”
As usual, you make excellent points scubog. Almost maccabean:)
I’m excited about Brate’s future with the Bucs, but we need two great tight ends to make this offense explode. Winson loves feeding his TE’s. All ASJ needs to do this season is stay healthy and we’ll be fine.
Competition…..the best will play. ASJ needs to stay healthy…PERIOD!!!!!
I agree scubog! Thats why I don’t post much in the offseason. It’s all about pick on this guy, he’s a bust, why don’t we cut him. Tomorrow we put the pads on, the new season starts. for those who are healthy its a level playing field. We store all are fantasy crap till next offseason and start talking about the 2016 Buc’s.
Great post Scubog! Couldn’t agree more. What ever happen to supporting the player’s on our team instead of trying to find Every LITTLE Reason to not like a player. Especially players we’ve drafted. It seems some people expect perfection from every player on the team. No Mistakes, No Injuries, No Attitude, No Problems or your on the s#%t list. No team has ever had a roster that’s perfect and never will. GO BUCS!!!
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