Finally, he was a football player again.
Finally, he wasn’t just an observer.
Tampa Bay Bucs’ tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins returned the football field Sunday after nine weeks off from a shoulder injury. It was as if the color had returned to his world. He caught three passes for 31 yards and played in the team’s comeback victory over Atlanta.
“I was just super excited to get out there and play,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “Football is what I love. I love to be around these guys, help support these guys in any way that I can. Being out on the football field was a big step to doing that. I was a little rusty out there, a little anxious, pressed a little too much, but I was very happy to be out there and very happy to do whatever I could to help.”
Going into the season, the receiver group was supposed to be one of the offense’s biggest strengths with receivers Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Saferian-Jenkins. But injuries, and inconsistent play by Evans, have plagued the team throughout.
Going into the final month, however, the Bucs are whole again.
“No one wants to play more than Austin,” said offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. “If you ever watched Austin in those games when he was hurt on the sideline he’s the No. 1 cheerleader out there. I just know personally from my own conversations with him, that guy really missed playing, he wanted to play. He was coaching Tevin Westbrook, our tight end on the practice squad. Austin has been coaching him up. Then when you actually get in the game, your heart is pumping and your adrenaline is going. Austin was a little bit rusty.
“He looked like a guy that hadn’t played in nine weeks. You take nine weeks off – Practice is practice and game-speed in the NFL is game-speed. Then he took that shot. That was a good shot William Moore put on him. I was a little nervous when he kind of popped up, but he hung in there. He played 20-something plays and I’m sure that number will continue to grow from here on.”
Seferian-Jenkins was out long enough that fans started to wonder about his durability. But quarterback Jameis Winston said that Saferian-Jenkins was itching to get back. Saferian Jenkins had been out since the first game against the New Orleans Saints.
“The first two weeks were big weeks for Austin,” Winston said. “His locker is right next to mine, so this last week he was excited. He always goes to practice, but this week before practice Austin had his pants, his jersey, his helmet, his pads all laid out in front of his locker. He had to take at least four showers throughout the whole day. He got in the hot tub at least six times. I don’t know, he probably found a way to get in the hot tub during practice. He was just so ready, he was so anxious and it showed. He came out wanting the ball. He had a big day for us.
“That (initial) shot was a welcome back for Austin. He caught that shot – he ate it, too. Will Moore put it on him, but he ate it, he got back up like, ‘Let’s go.’ He was excited.”
Bucs’ coach Lovie Smith said he wished Saferian-Jenkins had been playing, but praised his attitude while out.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a player handle an injury as well as he did – staying in the game,” Smith said. “As you watch our game, he is visible. Sometimes it just calls for you to be a cheerleader, support your teammates. He did that throughout. I know no one stayed into the game plan as much as he did – each day in practice having a script, getting a mental rep. I think he did about all you can do being an injured player for him to come back. It’s not like he got in this game and had a bunch of mental breakdowns. He didn’t. Now it’s about that next step for him. We keep saying he’s going to be a great football player when he’s on the football field and we have him back out there.”