Virtually every skill-position player in the NFL would like to see the football come his way more often. Unfortunately for many of those players, that isn't necessarily a priority for their teams' coaching staffs.
That's not the case for Mike Evans, however. From the head coach to the man calling the plays to the rookie distributing the football on game day, everyone agrees that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year receiver should be more involved in the offense.
"We just need to get Mike started," said Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter. "He's fine. We just need to get him started. I'm sure Mike is a little bit frustrated. It is what it is. We've been down this road before with other guys. We've just got to get him started. There is nothing he is doing wrong. He's playing hard, he's practicing hard."
On Sunday, the Buccaneers will play the Washington Redskins at FedExField, where just under a year ago Evans had the biggest game of his young career. The seventh-overall pick in the 2014 draft dominated the Redskins' secondary that day to the tune of seven catches, 209 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second-highest single-game receiving yardage total in franchise history and it was the key to a runaway 27-7 victory.
That came during a torrid three-game stretch for Evans in which he racked up an incredible 21 catches for 458 yards and five touchdowns against Cleveland, Atlanta and Washington. Prior to that breakout, Evans had seen steady but not spectacular production, with either four or five receptions in each of his first six NFL games, a total of two scores and no single-game yardage total higher than 78.
If Evans is to catch fire again during the middle part of his second season, which is a distinct possibility given the Buccaneers' upward-trending offense, it will be a bigger leap this time. A hamstring injury made him essentially a non-factor for the first two games and his return to full action in Week Three in Houston was uncharacteristically shaky. The Bucs have played just twice since, with fellow wide receiver Vincent Jackson getting all the attention in the first one and the running backs dominating in the second one. Soon, it will be Evans' turn, and that could take Tampa Bay's offense from intriguing to downright dangerous.
"We need Mike to come [along], but for our football team we like what we're seeing as far as the direction we're going offensively," said Head Coach Lovie Smith. "To be able to add Mike Evans' best ball to that, yeah, that's exciting too. Sometimes it'll take you awhile for whatever reason. Injuries can hold you, they can stop that progress a little bit. Mike is healthy now – getting away from ball, getting a chance to start anew with everyone. He's a great player and we need him to play that way each week."
Photos of the projected starters for the Redskins as listed on team depth chart.
Evans does already have a 100-yard game this season, at Houston in Week Three, but the most notable thing about his numbers is that he's yet to find the end zone. Last year, Evans set a franchise record for touchdown receptions in a single season, not for rookies but for all players, with 12. Still just 22 years old, Evans figures to put up that type of numbers for the Bucs for years to come, especially as he forms a bond with his 21-year-old quarterback, Jameis Winston.
"We worked a lot over the summer, so we definitely have a chemistry," said Winston of his relationship with Evans. "I'm definitely going to try to give him the ball more, but, I mean, some things work and some things don't. It's football. He had a big year last year and people are focusing on stopping Mike Evans. That's the big thing. That's a sign of respect, because he's a great receiver."
Evans, like all his fellow pass-catchers around the league, is almost certainly looking forward to getting more opportunities to catch the ball. However, he's not actively campaigning for the football, and Winston appreciates that.
"That's the thing about this team," said the young passer. "Everyone, they do their jobs. Like me; I do my role. My role is to play quarterback and I accept my role. Whatever, it doesn't matter what situation we have, what game plan we have called. Anything that they call for me, my job is to do my role. And [Evans] has been doing that. He's not going to sit there and complain because at any given time, one play can be – boom – touchdown. It takes one play to make a big play and for him to get a spark."
- For a team coming off a recuperative bye week, the Buccaneers submitted a fairly lengthy injury report on Wednesday.
Without getting specific, Lovie Smith said the team incurred a few new and minor injuries on the practice field Wednesday, which appears to have contributed to a list that is 12 players long. Among the names on the list this week that had not previously appeared on an injury report were tackle Reid Fragel (head, limited) and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel (shoulder, limited). Linebacker Bruce Carter is also a new addition this week, but he did not participate in practice at all, which means he was ruled out before the workout began due to a thigh ailment.
The Buccaneers had been able to hold a "bonus" practice on Tuesday, coming off their bye week, and it was clear by the attendance between the lines that some injured contributors were close to returning. That news got a sharper definition on Wednesday when the team began the usual work week, which includes an official injury report. The most encouraging news is that starting cornerback Johnthan Banks (knee) and Luke Stocker (hip), the team's best blocking tight end, were both able to practice without limits. Starting center Evan Smith (ankle) and special teams ace Russell Shepard (hamstring) also practiced but were limited.
On the other hand, the team still awaits the returns of both starting left guard Logan Mankins (groin) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder), the Bucs' best pass-catching threat at the tight end position. Neither practiced on Wednesday. Joining them on the sideline was Carter, the only other Buc not to at least take part in some part of the workout.
The Redskins did not have the advantage of a bye week and submitted an injury report on Wednesday that is 14 players long. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, one of the NFL's top deep threats, hasn't played since Washington's opener and was not able to return to practice Wednesday. Starting center Kory Lichtensteiger, who missed last Sunday's game against the New York Jets due to a neck issue, remains out as well. Five other Redskins were held out of action on Wednesday: cornerbacks Chris Culliver and DeAngelo Hall, defensive end Jason Hatcher, linebacker Keenan Robinson and running back Chris Thompson. All but Thompson are listed as starters on the Redskins' depth chart, though second-year man Brashaud Breeland has emerged as an impact player starting in Hall's place the last three weeks.