TAMPA — Whenever Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith grows tired of hashing over Tampa Bay's offensive line woes with the local media, he starts talking about Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
His mood lightens instantly.
Smith is generally reticent to gush over the progress of rookies during training camp, but it has become increasingly obvious that a hulking tight end out of the University of Washington is turning helmets at One Buc Place.
“He's got great size,'' Smith said of quarterback Josh McCown's new 6-foot-7 target. “He can still work on his blocking, but he actually has hands. He's in our plans. You don't have to look real hard to like something the guy has done.”
The 38th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Seferian-Jenkins is still listed fourth on the tight end depth chart behind Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker heading into Saturday night's home preseason game against Miami.
But on the practice field, a different story is unfolding as Seferian-Jenkins now finds himself working with the first-team offense on a regular basis.
“I appreciate them giving me reps, but I've got to do better with my reps,'' Seferian-Jenkins said. “They're giving me opportunities and I've got to keep getting better.''
In his first game as a pro, Seferian-Jenkins experienced the typical up and downs of a rookie.
He was charged with two holding calls, but also flashed the hands and agility that stamped him as Washington's career leader at the tight end position in receptions (146), receiving yards (1,840) and touchdown catches (21), despite declaring for the draft after his junior year.
Seferian-Jenkins had a 48-yard catch nullified by a holding penalty up front in Jacksonville and he found an open seam down the left sideline for a 23-yard gain as quarterback Mike Glennon bought time by drifting left out of the pocket.
“He's a big guy who can run,'' new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford said. “Austin has excellent hands and he's done a really nice job at the line of scrimmage blocking as well. He brings a lot to the table for us.''
In the next-to-last practice session of training camp, Seferian-Jenkins latched onto a McCown pass in the back of the end zone Tuesday for a touchdown during a red-zone drill.
That's a scene Bucs fans hope to see repeated often this fall as Seferian-Jenkins combines with 6-foot-5 wide receivers Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans in creating difficult matchup problems.
The 3,171-mile road from Gig Harbor, Washington, to Tampa hasn't been particularly smooth for Seferian-Jenkins, who is especially close to his mother, Linda.
Late in his sophomore season, Seferian-Jenkins was sucker-punched in the face by a fan who ran onto the field while Washington State was celebrating a 31-28 victory against the Huskies.
Four months later, Seferian-Jenkins was arrested on suspicion of DUI after his SUV veered off the street and rammed into a tree, leaving his face bloodied. He pleaded guilty and spent one day in jail, then was suspended for Washington's season opener.
Instead of sulking, Seferian-Jenkins visited a local high school to discuss his lapse in judgment with impressionable students. The toughest part was explaining the incident to his mom.
In February, a stress fracture in his foot prompted Seferian-Jenkins to undergo surgery. School obligations prevented him from participating in Tampa Bay's offseason program, so he reported to camp last month well behind his teammates.
“My goal for my rookie season is going to be the same goal if I'm lucky enough to be playing 15 years from now — coming out every single day, every single practice and every single game to work hard and maximize every opportunity I have,'' he said. “I believe with my talent, my skill level and dedication I'll be in a very good place.''
And Seferian-Jenkins wants to touch others along the way.
At 21, this grandson of the long-time conductor of the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra is determined to find his true voice through humanitarian efforts.
“One thing fans don't know about me is my dedication to serve others, giving back to people who are less fortunate,'' he said. “I'm not talking about wealth-wise, I'm talking about health-wise. People that are unfortunately sick with diseases like cancer. ... I've got a heart for them. I want to do whatever I can to put a smile on their face.''