TAMPA, Fla. -- They may both be 6-foot-5 pass-catchers who can go over the middle in traffic and make diving catches in the end zone, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight ends Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Cameron Brate don't see each other as competition. There was no animosity even when Brate's name was placed atop the depth chart ahead of Seferian-Jenkins', last season's starter.
The same held true in Saturday's preseason game win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The typically sure-handed Brate, who'd been dominating practices since training camp began, struggled catching the ball and took a nasty blow behind his head. Meanwhile, Seferian-Jenkins continued his climb from the past two weeks, making tough catches and earning split first-team reps in practice.
"We're going to even out those reps with the first group with Cam and Austin," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said after watching Saturday's tape. "Austin's worked his way right back in there, and when he got moved down the depth chart, all you can ask a player when he gets moved down is that he competes and does better and tries to get back up there, and he's done that.
"The catch in the second half that Austin made on the 'bow-out' -- there's just not a whole lot of guys that can make that play. He's earned a chance to get back and work more with the first group, so we should give it to him.”
The Bucs have recently been employing not just two-tight-end sets -- which also feature 6-6 Luke Stocker, the team's best run-blocker, or hybrid fullback/tight end/jack-of-all-trades Danny Vitale -- but also three-tight-end sets, where Brate and Seferian-Jenkins will both be out on the field together as passing threats.
"I think that we're both going to play a lot this year," said Brate, an undrafted free agent out of Harvard who entered the league in 2014, the same year Seferian-Jenkins was selected in the second round. "I'd been getting a lot of those reps early in training camp, and it's good to even it out, both get some work. He looked really good on Saturday, had a good week of practice last week, so it's going to be fun working with him.”
Seferian-Jenkins' time with Koetter got off to a strange start. He was kicked out of the last day of OTAs in June for, as Koetter put it, "not knowing what he was doing." In minicamp and in training camp, Brate was getting a lot of targets and catching virtually everything that went his way, while Seferian-Jenkins struggled with his consistency.
“[With] training camp, you get here the first week and sometimes you're rusty," Seferian-Jenkins said. "I was rusty, and I wasn't doing things the way they asked me to do it, and that's what happens. If you don't do it the way coaches ask you to do something and someone else does it the way it's supposed to be done, that's just natural life."
As far as his approach goes, Seferian-Jenkins said nothing has changed on his end.
"I'm working hard, I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, and it just happens that it's just showing up," Seferian-Jenkins said, emphasizing that his production in joint practices with the Jaguars and in the second preseason game came from simply getting opportunities and capitalizing on them. He doesn't feel like he's in direct competition with Brate for the starting job, either. The same goes for his other teammates.
"Cam has been doing a phenomenal job, the whole tight end room has been doing a phenomenal job and nothing changed in our room," Seferian-Jenkins said. "Everyone's trying to get better and there's a competition, but there really isn't. There's a mutual respect that we're all trying to get to a higher place as a team, and the further I can push Cam, the further Cam can push me, the further Cam can push Luke, I can push Luke, I can push [Brandon] Myers, Tevin [Westbrook], Danny Vitale, the better we will be as a group."
While Brate admitted that he wants to be the starter, he's OK with sharing reps in practice and snaps in games if it means a more potent offense.
"Austin is a really good player," Brate said. "I think with both of us on the field, it'll definitely be good for us.”
When you also factor in that Bucs receivers have struggled with drops and the way Koetter likes to spread the field, it creates opportunities. Koetter has also shown he can tinker his playbook based on what he has to work with offensively.
“I think Cam's a phenomenal tight end in his own right, I think he does a lot of good things well. We both play hard and we both like to make plays, and we both like to catch the ball and we're both going to give effort and we're both good people," Seferian-Jenkins said. "I think we're both kind of misunderstood in a way. I think sometimes people think Cam, because he's from Harvard, he's a little soft, but he's not. He plays really hard, he plays a physical game, and he's not afraid to go in there and get hit. He's going to make the plays."