TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — O.J. Howard is giving up Snickers.
The Alabama tight end said it’s part of a personal focus for him on eating right, to gain weight and to help it stay there. He said he used to eat two of them a night.
The only problem is what he’s replacing it with.
“Ice cream, to be honest with you,” he said. “I had to do something else.”
That doesn’t quite add up, but neither does a 6’6”, 240-pound human running this fast:
Much has been made about Howard’s size and athleticism. Still, in 2013, he was only targeted 23 times, according to Rotogrinders.
That could be attributed to his inexperience in the offense, the coaches’ trust in him as a freshman or a weakness as a blocker—an integral skill for any tight end under coach Nick Saban.
But Howard, now with a year of experience under his belt, will be a matchup nightmare in 2014 and is in line for a breakout year.
“O.J. Howard is doing really, really well,” Saban said. “He's gotten a little bigger, a little stronger. He's improved some as a blocker, still has a way to go. But is really a mismatch player as a receiver. Having a guy like that, really there's a lot of multiples in terms of how you can use him and create problems for the defense to have to adjust to him. He's worked hard and responded well.”
Howard very much fits the bill of the prototypical “new-age” NFL tight ends that have taken the league by storm and are causing headaches all over the league. It’s appropriate that Howard said he tries to mimic one of the poster boys for that movement.
“Jimmy Graham is a great guy you can model your game behind,” Howard said. “He’s a really good receiver, also. You don’t really see him blocking as much, though. He’s a great guy on field. He has a really good game. I want to model my game from him.”
Graham made news this offseason when he went to arbitration over his classification as either a tight end or wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes. Graham racked up more than 1,200 yards receiving last season and 16 touchdowns. According to ESPN, he lined up as a wide receiver on 67 percent of the New Orleans Saints’ offensive plays.
Howard should have a better opportunity to play like Graham this season.
Besides the aforementioned blocking improvements, Howard will benefit from playing under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who’s already noticed Howard’s skill as a receiver.
“O.J. is really extremely talented,” Kiffin said. “A guy who was more of a receiver last year, so we’re working more with him about speed and his ability to do everything. The last thing I want to do here is focus on what they do really well. That’s our challenge here this fall. Let’s focus on what you haven’t done so well and not what you’ve done. We know what you can do, let’s bring your game up. A good example of that is get a player who can play all of the time.”
Howard noted how Kiffin has been using him so far, starting in the spring and into fall camp.
“As a receiver, I’ll move to the slot, more mismatches against defensive backs, safeties,” Howard said. “We can go out wide. Things like that. That’s really different this year.”
His teammates on the defensive side of the ball have noted his ability, too.
“O.J. Howard’s difficult (to cover),” senior safety Nick Perry said. “He can be a tight end, he can be out wide and play receiver. He has talent, all-around talent. Teams definitely have to prepare for him.”
Howard’s presence could be the linchpin that takes Alabama’s offense from good to great.
The Crimson Tide is loaded at the skill positions. T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake create a dangerous three-pronged attack at running back, each with different strengths and weaknesses that complement each other.
Amari Cooper, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White form a veteran and explosive wide receiver trio, with talented youngsters like Chris Black, Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart behind them.
Howard gives defensive coordinators another problem to worry about on top of those other skill guys.
It’s still unclear who will be distributing the ball to all of those weapons. But whoever it is will also have a big and explosive target to throw to.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.
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