There aren't many things you'd say are little about Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans. The 6-foot-5 veteran wideout has put up big numbers year in and year out, after all. In fact, he's on the cusp of his seventh-consecutive 1,000-yard season to start his career, which would be a first in NFL history should he accomplish the feat. Throw him the ball and you'll get some big gains, too, with his 17.3 yard per catch average from 2019. He also happens to be tied for the fourth-most receptions of 20 yards or more since entering the league in 2014 with 108. Overall, he's just a big contributor, tallying the fourth highest per game average in receiving yards with 89.0 last year.
But when you play big, it's often the little things that make all the difference.
That's why, armed with one of the most detail-oriented quarterbacks in the league and nestled comfortably in Head Coach Bruce Arians' offense for the second year, Evans has made an even more concerted effort going into 2020 on perfecting his craft, right down to the minutia. And it isn't going unnoticed.
"Well, it's pretty hard to improve much," Arians said of his Pro Bowl wide receiver on Tuesday. "Just continue doing what you're doing and understand the offense. We had a little pick play run today, Tom threw it and he wasn't quite ready for it. He came back, he understood right away. He thought he was going to outrun the guy rather than just taking it right now and getting the first down. Just little things – in the second year of any offense, the intricacies of little things like that, I'd like to see Mike doing, which he is doing every single day. [I] can't ask for much more out of him."
The guy throwing Evans the ball is a technician. Fellow wide receiver Scotty Miller even said so during the same Zoom media availability on Tuesday. It means Brady is hyper focused not only on himself, but on those around him to get everything just right. He can regularly be seen in practice coaching up receivers, tight ends, running backs. He's even thrown a few pointers to his offensive linemen on everything from blocking to towel technique. Hey, he's hands-on.
It's the same reason he will walk with a receiver to mark out routes and hold out his hands to show how a receiver should catch the ball. Of all people, Evans has made a living in making uncatchable passes, well, catchable. According to Pro Football Focus, he has the most receiving yards on contested targets since 2015 with 995. That's ahead of guys like Atlanta's Julio Jones and Arizona's DeAndre Hopkins (yeah, that's still weird). I think he'd be forgiven for thinking he knows how to catch the ball – yet, without exception, Evans has been soaking it all in from Brady, anyway.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
"Mike has a lot of respect for Tom, so I think Tom's going to help him push through things and compete at the highest level," Wide Receivers Coach Kevin Garver said. "I think that's the number one thing that will help Mike. Then, just the little things. That's really the thing I've been stressing with Mike all offseason. Getting in at the right depths, being in the right catch-reception area, using the right technique. I think those are the things Mike is focusing on. Obviously, he's got to do those things on his own, but playing with a guy like Tom I think does help just from a motivational standpoint when you're playing with a quarterback of his caliber."
"When it comes to routes, he's very detailed in how he wants us to run certain routes to protect the throw," Evans said of Brady.
In turn, Evans pays it forward to the other receivers in the room. It may be Evans and Chris Godwin as the runaway starters after they combined for over 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, but the position group is made up of a ton of young, developing talent. It's talent that can be molded and helped by guys like Evans and Godwin. And they're guys that Evans himself gushed about on Tuesday. See, Evans notices the little things not only in himself, but in those around him.
"Every year it's our goal to have the best wide receiver room in the league," Evans said. "Last year, I thought we definitely had that. This year, we're going to be even better top to bottom. J-Wat (Justin Watson), he improves every single year – like the quickness at the line of scrimmage, his routes, he's more physical, he's running faster [and] he catches the ball better. Scotty is improving. All of our guys keep improving year-in and year-out and that's a testament to coaching and just our work ethic. This year hopefully we have a great year and can be a catalyst for this team."
Spoken like a true leader, wouldn't you say?
"I think it really goes a long way when you have two guys in your room at that level, but they're not divas at all," said Garver of both Evans and Godwin. "They really try to be the best leaders they can be – they're both different in the way that they lead. But, I think they really see that within the room and even within the offense and within the team, and continue to develop that every day. I really commend both of those guys because they take that on, and I think they get a lot of credit. Like you said, we all know their attributes and what they do on the field, but off the field I think they're both great men in just who they are, what they represent and just how they carry themselves."
As a bonus, and in the spirit of being a great guy off the field, the little things are also his kids. Evans was able to spend more time with them this offseason - call that a silver lining to a global pandemic, I suppose. In fact, Evans and his wife, Ashli, welcomed a baby boy this offseason. And while the little one may not quite comprehend them, Evans' two older daughters have been watching Harry Potter movies with their dad nonstop. Only movies 1-4, though. They'll have to wait until they're older to get into the Order of the Phoenix (if you know, you know).