Safety Justin Evans has been out all offseason with nagging injuries to both of his feet. As he rehabbed, he watched from the sidelines as a new staff came in, a new system was installed and sat in meeting rooms day in and day out without ever getting a rep in the Bucs new defense.
That's going to change this week.
Evans returned to practice for the first time in 2019 on Sunday, where he participated in individual drills with his teammates and his position group. The goal is to ease him back into practice, though Evans says he's already in football shape, and it could end up with him playing his first game this year in Dallas against the Cowboys on Thursday night.
"It's important and we'll see if it's feasible," Head Coach Bruce Arians said about Evans playing in the Bucs' preseason finale. "He went through individual (drills) today no problems. We'll probably put him in some reps tomorrow and Tuesday and walk-through Wednesday. See how he travels. I'd love to get him in the game to start getting his eyes trained in this defense because it's so different than what he's played. It's good to see him out there."
Being out there is the final frontier for Evans, who watched what started as 'little nicks' last year to his feet escalate into full-blown injuries that would cause him to miss the final four games of the season and six in total. He's had plenty of mental reps in the Bucs' defensive system since its overhaul into a 3-4 base. The mental part of the game has never been an issue for Evans, whose head coach calls him a 'really heady, smart player,' though he's only seen tape of what Evans can do.
"You can tell on tape, he gets it he sees it" Arians said. "He's out there making all the calls all spring. He knows it. It's just different. He went through drills, they were breaking on screens and today he slid, busted his butt, hey, nice to be back."
Now it will be a matter of coupling that cerebral understanding of the game with his freakish athleticism and seeing the looks he's supposed to see in a game situation because in this defense, the safeties are responsible for a lot.
"Coach Bowles, he does a lot with his safeties," Evans said. "I'll be doing a bunch of stuff. I'll be down, I'll be blitzing, cover 2, high safety, coming down playing low safety, just whatever. I like it a lot because I get to do a bunch of different things."
His fellow defensive backs have been holding their own throughout the offseason. Starting in the spring, rookies like safety Mike Edwards have started to make plays. Though Edwards is currently sidelined himself, he looks to be an integral part of the defense even with it being his first year in the league. He's one of many that have taken well to the new scheme and the comfortability, along with the amount of fun they're having in it, is something Evans is anxious to feel included on.
"I want to be a part of it," Evans said. "That's our defense, as we call it. I definitely want to be a part of it. I want to contribute to it. For sure."
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