HOUSTON -- Antony Auclair twisted his body after recognizing a crack in the New England Patriots’ defense, capitalizing on the opportunity to slip past safety Kyle Dugger.
The adjustment worked perfectly last Sunday as the Houston Texans’ 6-foot-6, 256-pound blocking tight end made a nifty catch for an 11-yard touchdown catch on a pass from rookie quarterback Davis Mills in the 25-22 loss to the Patriots. It represented the first score for Auclair since catching a touchdown in the Canadian national championship game, the Vanier Cup, five years ago for the Université de Laval’s Rouge et Or football team.
The touchdown for the native of Notre-Dame-des-Pins, Quebec, who grew up speaking French, happened on Auclair’s only target of the season and the first touchdown by a player from Quebec since Tshimanga Biaabutuka on Oct. 21, 2001.
After earning a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team led by Tom Brady last season, playing in eight games with two starts and primarily operating as a blocker in the Texans’ three tight end alignments and catching the touchdown was a significant moment for Auclair.
The play was designed to go to tight end Pharaoh Brown, but plans changed on the fly.
“I was supposed to run a corner, and on my way to the corner I was supposed to pick the guy that was covering Pharaoh,” Auclair said. “Really, that play was designed to throw to Pharaoh in the flat. I just saw nobody was covering me, so I was just staring and I hoped that Davis saw the same thing, and he did. So, we scored on that play.
“My mentality every year and every game, really, is to go in there and do my job. If they ask me to block, I’m going to do that as best as I can. If the ball gets thrown to me, I’m going to try to catch it for sure. I don’t go into a game trying to get five catches, because I know that’s not really a thing for me. I’m more of a blocker. But every time you get a chance or an opportunity like that, you’ve got to make it.”
Growing up in a small town in Canada, Auclair ironically didn’t embrace a sport beloved by most of its citizens: hockey.
“You know, that’s crazy because I’m Canadian, right?” Auclair said. “I don’t even know how to skate, to be honest. I know it’s weird.
“I just played football growing up. We played football in the snow, which was kind of cool because we could play contact. But never really went into hockey that much. “I was trying to play football with them, but sometimes hockey took over. That was sad, but it is what it is.”
Auclair signed a one-year contract with the Texans this offseason, was released after training camp and then signed to the practice squad. Promoted to the active roster on Sept. 21, he has started the past three games.
With the Buccaneers, Auclair learned a lot from tight end Rob Gronkowski. Especially about physical and mental preparation for games.
Auclair, whose CFL rights are held by the Saskatchewan Roughriders after being drafted in the fourth round in 2017, is forging a strong reputation as a blocker.
“They say tight ends, half are O-line, half are receivers sometimes,” Auclair said. “ I feel like I’m more on the O-line side, and trying to be big and strong. Sometimes, you get beat up in games, and those defensive ends get paid, man. Sometimes on pass pros, it’s a tough block. I try to do my best and help the team, for sure.
“I think we’re trying to be a team that runs the ball well, and I think that fits my skillset. That’s what I try to bring to the team. I’m an aggressive blocker, a strong guy. That’s what I’m trying to be, and if I can’t help the team doing that, then it is what it is. I really like my job here, I think it’s a good fit.
In five seasons, Auclair has 11 career receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown. He’s basically an honorary offensive lineman, according to offensive tackle Charlie Heck.
“Oh yeah, he really helps us out,” Heck said. “He makes our jobs easier when he’s in there blocking.”
Growing up in Canada, though, Auclair didn’t play tight end. He was a quarterback.
“I was really skinny,” he said. “I had to put weight on. I was a quarterback. I always understood the game, the reads and stuff, why we do a certain concept, what are we trying to get there. I think that’s a huge part of my game, because I think I’m a pretty smart player because I played quarterback. In a concept, I try to know routes and why we’re doing that.”
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