The Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to see second-year wide receiver Mike Evans on the field on September 13. For that reason, Evans will not see the field for the rest of the 2015 preseason.
It's actually a hamstring injury that will keep Evans out of action against Cleveland and Miami, and even more so Lovie Smith's policy of being extremely cautious with such ailments. Evans left Monday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals early, and as it turns out the 15 snaps he logged will be his last for at least two weeks. The actual recovery time for Evans – and thus his likely status for the regular-season opener on September 13 – has not yet been established.
"If a guy has that hamstring injury, he's going to be out a while," said Head Coach Lovie Smith on Tuesday. "So, 'significant,' 'how long' – I could have come up here and said [Evans is] day-to-day, which most people do for hamstring injuries. It doesn't work like that. He injured his hamstring, he's not going to play this week, probably won't play the following week. We'll take every precaution with hamstrings, always, with me."
Evans led the Buccaneers in receiving yards in his rookie season, catching 68 passes for 1,051 yards. He did miss one game due to injury but still set a single-season franchise record with 12 touchdown receptions. The team is hoping for even more production this year from the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, and they obviously want to keep rookie quarterback Jameis Winston surrounded with as many weapons as possible. It is not surprising that the Bucs are prioritizing Evans' regular-season readiness over the second half of the preseason, and Smith did not specifically say that the young receiver would miss any time beyond the preseason.
"I won't go that far," said Smith. "I know he is not going to play this week."
Cornerback Leonard Johnson, who is competing for the "starting" nickel back job, suffered an ankle injury during Monday's game and was carted off the field. He, too, will miss at least this Saturday's game against Cleveland and possibly more time. Otherwise, Smith expects to have the rest of the roster available for the third preseason contest; that includes Winston, who also hurt his right ankle against the Bengals.
"Leonard and Mike will not be playing this week," said Smith. "The rest of our guys should be good. Evan Smith didn't play in the game; he should be good to go. Again, we should have a light practice tomorrow and most of those guys should be out there then."
- Smith, the Bucs' starting center, was a late scratch from Monday's game after suffering an unspecified injury in Saturday's practice, and that meant a start for first-year lineman Jeremiah Warren. Warren was familiar with the surroundings, as he played his college ball at nearby University of South Florida and enjoyed home games at Raymond James Stadium. Warren would like to extend his time at Raymond James Stadium and One Buccaneer Place by making it through the upcoming roster cuts, and he did nothing to hurt his chances on Monday. The same could be said for second-year man Reid Fragel, who has been running with the first team at right tackle since the injury suffered by Demar Dotson in the preseason opener.
Photos from the Buccaneers' preseason game against the Bengals at Raymond James Stadium.
"I talk a lot to the team about doing something – make us put you on the football team," said Smith. "Make us put you on the 53[-man roster]. Use the opportunity that you have. For Reid [and] Jeremiah, they had a great opportunity and they both met the challenge, made us take notice. Sometimes, when they're out there and you don't know that they're out there, that's a good thing. But they feel like they held up, they held their own."
Logan Mankins started at left guard as usual on Monday night; his 146 career regular-season starts in the NFL are 146 more than the four players who joined him on the O-Line for the first snap have made between them.
The other two players in that lineup were, of course, fellow rookies and 2015 draft picks Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Both started for the first time after running with the second team in the preseason opener, and they were part of an offense that produced 216 net yards and a brilliant opening drive.
Smith and Marpet did play extensively in the Minnesota game the previous weekend, of course, and Smith could see progress made by both rookies in Week Two.
"They continued to get better," said Lovie Smith. "Donovan and Ali – Ali was playing against one of the best defensive linemen in football in Geno Atkins. Geno had at least one good rush on him, but I thought he held his own pretty well. But each week, he is going to play against a player like [Atkins]. Same thing with Donovan. Both did some good things, along with the rest of those young guys on that offensive line."
- The Buccaneers were understandably thrilled with Winston's strong showing in his second NFL game, but perhaps of equal importance to the team's offensive hopes in 2015 is the strong start to the preseason by fourth-year running back Doug Martin.
Photos of Jameis Winston in action against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, August 24th.
Smith had encouraging appraisals of Martin throughout the offseason, but the running back's performance in game settings is obviously a better measure of how well he is playing. In that regard, Martin has backed up that early praise. In the opener at Minnesota, his stat line – five carries for 18 yards – didn't reflect how sharp he looked on the majority of those carries. Against the Bengals Monday, Martin got a little bit more playing time and came away with a more robust set of numbers: 59 yards on six carries plus one nine-yard run.
Martin's best moment was a 30-yard scamper on a sweep that looked like a non-starter until he broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage. He wasn't stopped until he got to the one-yard line, and that set up Winston's own one-yard scoring scramble.
"He's looked good in training camp practices, but you want to see him do it in a game," said Smith. "There were holes last night, but there were also – there was a wall and he was stopped at the line of scrimmage a couple times and he made something out of nothing a few times. He broke tackles, again, ran hard – just a good game."
Smith's reference to Martin's past is to the 2012 season, when the former Boise State star exploded on the NFL scene with 1,926 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. Injuries helped limit Martin to 1,070 total yards over the next two seasons combined, but Martin currently looks more like he did in that memorable rookie campaign.
"I wasn't around when Doug had his breakout year, but that guy we saw last night, that's what we're looking for," said Smith. "That's what we need in order for us to get this running game going."