TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Cameron Brate describes his unlikely journey from undrafted college free agent to starting NFL tight end as “pretty crazy.” Now, the former Harvard standout is hoping to prove the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a smart choice.
The third-year pro, released late last summer only to rejoin the Bucs after a brief stay with the New Orleans Saints, played his way into the team’s long-term plans while filling in a portion of the 2015 season for an injured Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who’s been unable to hold on to the No. 1 job in training camp.
Seferian-Jenkins was a second-round draft pick two years ago. He’s shown flashes of being a potential star, but also has struggled to stay healthy while appearing in just 16 games since entering the league.
“Two years ago, I was kind of an afterthought,” said Brate, who spent most of his rookie season on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, eventually winding up on the active roster for the final four games and catching one pass for 17 yards.
“My rookie year I didn’t get too many reps in practice and was just hoping to catch on any way I could. … Then last year, I was kind of at the bottom of the depth chart again,” he added. “It was a major bummer to get cut, but it ended up working out for me. … It’s pretty cool looking back, just kind of how far I’ve come.”
Brate, 25, spent the opening week of last season on Tampa Bay’s practice squad. He smiles recalling what happened next during a whirlwind seven days that saw the young tight end get released, sign with New Orleans’ practice squad, stand on the sideline and watch the Bucs beat his new team on Sunday, and — finally — wind up back in Tampa Bay when his old team signed him to the active roster from the Saints’ practice squad.
Brate went on to appear in 14 games, starting four and finishing with 23 receptions for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Seferian-Jenkins had 21 receptions for 338 yards and four TDs in seven games.
“I was holding my breath when we lost him to the Saints. .. I thought they were getting a really good guy, and it just worked out that we had a chance to get him back,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, the team’s offensive coordinator a year ago, said.
“He’s 6’5, he can run, he’s smart, he’s coachable, he’s consistent, (and) he knows where to be and when to be there,” Koetter added. “That’s important. Guys that don’t make mistakes. And then when you get a chance to make plays, you’ve got to make them, and he does.”
Meanwhile, Seferian-Jenkins said he’s focused on working hard and contributing any way he can — not the depth chart.
“It is what it should be right now. … I’m just thankful to be out here playing football and doing what I love,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I’m going to enjoy it and I’m going to seize every opportunity that I get because that’s the most important thing.”
Brate, meanwhile, knows he’s far from a finished product.
While excited about what he accomplished last year and the prospect for continued growth with Jameis Winston coming off throwing for more than 4,000 yards as a rookie, Brate also wants to improve his blocking in hopes of becoming a more complete player.
“`A big thing I think was confidence for me,” said Brate, who had 18 career TD receptions at Harvard. “Coming from a smaller school, not really playing too much my rookie year, just kind of believing in myself that I belonged in the league.”