'Touchdowns are contagious' for Bucs' Cam Brate, and so is his work ethic

TAMPA, Fla. -- At the end of every single practice, long after teammates have gone inside to escape the sweltering 90-degree heat, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate retreats to the very back of the practice field to get some extra red-zone work.

It doesn't matter that he was out there 30 minutes before practice too, with several teammates. It doesn't matter that last year, his eight touchdown catches were tied for the most in the league at his position, or that he tied Jimmie Giles' franchise record that stood since 1985.

His explanation?

"In the red zone, those throws are so tight and the areas are so small because the field is compressed,"said Brate, who went through this same routine when he played at Harvard. "It really comes down to timing and ball placement. The only way to get better at that is working on that, so that's what we do."

In Brate's mind, he's still that undrafted free agent just trying to earn a roster spot. He's still the guy who got cut and was picked up by New Orleans in 2015. He's still that giddy kid from Naperville, Ill., who couldn't wait to play the Chicago Bears last year so he could meet Jay Cutler.

And his teammates love everything about that.

"Who is the hardest-working guy who receives, that catches the ball? Who is that? That's Cam Brate," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "He's the cream of the crop. This guy's been working his whole life."

Winston and Brate connected last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings for a touchdown in the third quarter -- their 12th one together. The Bucs had been down 28-3, and Brate's touchdown -- their first of the game -- gave them some much-needed momentum.

It also gave Brate a hard shot to the back of the head. He shot right back up and kept going.

"He gives it all he has. He takes care of his body. He just continues to make play after play after play," Winston said. "Touchdowns are contagious for that guy. He just always finds a knack to catch the ball and get in the end zone."

Like Brate, second-year tight end Alan Cross signed with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent. Brate epitomizes what he's working to become. Other young undrafted free agents such as Antony Auclair, Javien Elliott, Channing Ward and DaVonte Lambert can look to Brate and see a template for success.

"Cam comes into that room, works hard, stays after late, he does extra stuff -- he's one of the guys I look up to from the 'hard work' aspect of football," said Cross, who used to stay after practice to do the same thing when he was at Memphis. "I'd see Cam doing that and it [made] me want to do it even more."

Has there ever been a day when Brate hasn't done that?

"Not that I know of," said Cross.

Will he ever stop doing that?

"There will never be a day," Winston said. "Cam Brate? No. God, he works his tail off."

It has rubbed off on rookie tight end O.J. Howard, too. Howard may have come into the league under different circumstances as the 19th overall pick, but he has gleaned a lot from being with Brate these last few months. The biggest lesson he has learned?

"Just pay attention to the details," Howard said. "We talk about the little things -- the steps in your route running, why you should block this way. When you pay attention to small details, it leads to big things."

"This guy works hard. Undrafted guy. Goes out on the field and plays like he deserves it all," Howard said. "He's the ultimate competitor. He's a student of the game. ... He does it the right way. ... He pays attention in the film room, takes it out onto the field and executes. If there's something he needs to work on, he [stays] behind and makes sure it's right."

The thing that jumps out the most to Winston? Brate's consistency, which has helped Winston become a more consistent quarterback.

"He's consistent in everything he does," Winston said. "He's improving and getting better every single day. Everyone, every quarterback, every teammate wants a teammate like Cameron Brate on his team."