Mike Evans really enjoys watching Richard Sherman at his craft. Evans should probably feel pretty good when he sees Sherman line up across the line of scrimmage from him, too.
The two players have crossed paths twice in the five seasons that Evans has been with the Buccaneers, once in a 14-5 Tampa Bay win over Seattle in 2016 and then again last year in a 27-9 downing of the San Francisco 49ers. Evans clearly has a great amount of respect for Sherman, who was a key part of the Legion of Boom secondary in Seattle for seven years before joining the Niners last year, but the numbers would suggest he's done well against the all-pro defender.
In the 2016 game against the Seahawks, Evans caught eight passes for 104 yards and both of the Bucs' scores. Last year when the 49ers came to town, Evans grabbed six passes for 116 yards, including a 42-yarder that set up the Bucs' first touchdown. Those numbers can be misleading, of course, because Sherman wasn't necessarily the main Seahawk responsible for Evans on all of those plays. However, there were definitely some one-on-one moments between the two that went in favor of the Bucs' receiver.
The aforementioned 42-yarder was one of them. Evans beat Sherman's press coverage at the line of scrimmage and got outside the defender, near the right sideline. Knowing he had gained instant separation, Evans quickly threw his right arm in the air to let Jameis Winston know he was in the clear; Winston hit him down the sideline, though the throw was just outside enough to drag Evans out of bounds to prevent a touchdown.
In the 2016 Bucs-Seahawks contest, Seattle did try to shadow Evans with their best cornerback as much as possible, though several of the resulting eight receptions came against zone looks, including the first touchdown. However, the second Evans score was a good example of two talented and physical players going at it down the field, and Evans did just enough to haul in the 23-yard score. This came after Sherman had flipped over from the other side of the field specifically to guard Evans.
So Round Three comes Sunday at Raymond James Stadium as Evans tries to stay ahead on the scorecard against one of the NFL players he admires the most. It's a good way for Evans to get his sixth season started, with a very welcome challenge.
"I always look forward to going against Sherm," he said. "He's my favorite defensive player in the history of the NFL, so I love going against Sherm. They have some really good corners outside of Sherm – [Ahkello] Witherspoon, [Jason] Verrett. We're going to have our hands full, but I'll take our receiver room against any DB room in the world."
* The Buccaneers released their first official injury report of the 2019 season on Wednesday. Opening week injury updates are usually the most favorable of the year and the Buccaneers are in relatively good roster health. That said, their first report does go 10 players deep.
Only three of the team's 53 players were held out completely on Wednesday: safety Justin Evans (Achilles), quarterback Blaine Gabbert (left shoulder) and outside linebacker Demone Harris (illness). Evans and Gabbert are obviously question marks for Sunday's opener, and Gabbert seems certain to be the inactive third quarterback this week, but Head Coach Bruce Arians said he expect Harris to be back on the practice field Thursday.
Though he missed all four preseason games with a knee injury, rookie outside linebacker Anthony Nelson might be ready to suit up for the regular-season opener. He practiced without limitations on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers have six other players who began the week with their practice participation limited to some degree. That includes defensive starters Lavonte David and Vita Vea, though the team has viewed their return to the practice field this week as a very positive development. Arians has insisted since early August that David would be ready for the opener. Check out the Bucs' entire Wednesday injury report here; that page will be updated on Thursday and Friday, with the final version including game-status designations (out, doubtful or questionable).
* The Buccaneers have won their season opener in each of the last three seasons. If they can stretch that to four years, it will be a new team record.
Tampa Bay started the 2016 campaign with a rousing 31-24 win at Atlanta. They were supposed to kick off 2017 in Miami but Hurricane Irma changed those plans, postponing that contest to Week 11. That made the home opener against Chicago the following Sunday the first game of the season, and the Bucs won it easily, 29-7. Last year's first game was the most memorable of the three, a 48-40 shootout in New Orleans' Superdome that set a new NFL record for combined points in a Week One contest.
The only other time the Buccaneers have won three straight season-openers was from 1979-81, with victories over Detroit, at Cincinnati and against Minnesota, respectively. But the 1978 and 1982 teams both lost their Week One outings, so the current team could be the first one in team history to make it four in a row.
The Buccaneers could also make Arians the franchise's sixth head coach – out of a total of 12 – to win his first regular-season game on the sideline. Arians' immediate predecessor, Dirk Koetter, got a win in his first game in 2016, as did Greg Schiano in 2012, Sam Wyche in 1992, Richard Williamson in 1990 and Ray Perkins in 1997. Williamson's win came in Week 15 of the '90 season as he took over for the fired Perkins.
Streak or no streak, the Buccaneers are simply happy to getting back to the games that count.
"That's what we love and that's what we're excited for," said cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. "We work hard all week just for Sunday, so when Sunday comes we're ready to cut loose."
The countdown to season kickoff is on! The Bucs are kicking off the NFL's 100th season with a FREE Tim McGraw pregame concert for all fans with a ticket to the home opener on Sept. 8! Get your tickets today.