Canadian TE Antony Auclair applies Rocky mentality through COVID-19 pandemic, training for NFL season

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Canadian tight end Antony Auclair is taking on a new challenge the same way as Rocky Balboa.

The global coronavirus pandemic has changed the way of life for everyone in the world and Auclair has shifted his mentality in order to be ready for whenever football is played.

“For now, every facility is closed in the NFL until March 31. In Quebec City where I’m training, the facility closed as well,” Auclair said.

“I’m a huge fan of Rocky IV when he trained in Russia, so I’m trying to replicate that and train outside. We can’t control the virus, so you find ways.”

Tampa Bay originally brought Auclair in on an undrafted free agent pact following the 2017 NFL draft. The 26-year-old signed a fresh one-year contract with the Bucs prior to the opening of NFL free agency on March 18. Auclair and his agent Sasha Ghavami explored multiple scenarios.

“There would have been a market for him. When you make a change of scenery you gotta make sure that you’re changing for an upgrade. It was just a question of doing it right with the CBA coming in with the new salary cap next year, it’ll be growing. For us to give up term to the team, the value has to be there,” Ghavami said. 

“In the discussions when it would come to value, we couldn’t agree on a value for a long-term deal. Ultimately, in pro football contracts are not guaranteed, so whether you sign a one, two, three or four-year deal, you’re basically signing a multitude of one-year deals.” 

Auclair has played 32 NFL games — eight his rookie year, a full 16 in 2018 and eight last season before a setback placed him on injured reserve. The Bucs went 7-9 in 2019 under Bruce Arians who was named head coach after Dirk Koetter was fired.

“He came into a new team last year with Bruce Arians’ new coaching staff and he’s gained the trust and the respect of that staff. Making that change, we estimated that it wasn’t worth the risk at this stage of his career to hit the open market,” Ghavami said. 

“We felt it was better for him to continue his progress in a system where he’s comfortable. And in terms of contracts, it would have been comparable to what we would have been able to get on the market anyways.”

Tampa Bay is the same city where Auclair really put himself on the NFL’s radar during the 2017 East-West Shrine Game. After showing well, 17 NFL teams traveled to Quebec City to see Auclair perform at his Laval University pro day and 10 NFL teams flew him in for visits. The Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Quebec native has made Tampa Bay feel like home.

“Leaving a team where you know you have potential — some players leave the team because they want to win somewhere else — but, for me, I just want to win in Tampa. Tampa is my second family, I know the city, I know everybody in Tampa, I want to stick there and start winning,” Auclair said. 

“I was hurt during the season, if I could put a number on it I’d say I’m 95 percent right now. We got a lot of potential. Last year we lost a lot of games by seven points or less. We could be winning a lot and I want to be part of that team.” 

The six-foot-six, 256-pounder has played 689 snaps for the Bucs primarily as a blocking tight end. He practiced against reigning NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett and recognized his potential instantly. The Bucs placed the franchise tag on Barrett, who notched an NFL-best 19.5 sacks in 2019, to ensure he remains in Tampa Bay.

“When I first saw him in OTAs, the guy came in from Denver he was behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, nobody knew him — he looked so good and I was like ‘where is this kid coming from?’ For sure I’m getting better blocking him in practice and I think he’s getting better as a pass rusher as well going against me,” Auclair said. 

Auclair is working to improve all-around, which includes route running and receiving. He has 10 catches for 84 yards on his resume. In Arians’ pass-heavy offence, there could be more targets coming Auclair’s way.

“I would be crazy not to say I would like to get the ball more, but I have an important role. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and Bruce Arians are pretty good offensive minds in the league. We’ll see how this role gets bigger in year four with the team,” Auclair said. 

Throughout the first three years with the Bucs, Auclair became accustomed to catching passes from Jameis Winston. However, the 2015 No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick is set to hit the free agent market. Tampa Bay’s quarterback situation is unknown, but general manager Jason Licht and Arians have made an aggressive pitch to Tom Brady.

“He’s the greatest of all-time, but it’s just speculation, we don’t know if he’s going to come to Tampa,” Auclair said. “It’s not my job to do that.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.