Bucs want Winston and Evans to improve their chemistry
Shortly after returning from his wedding a few weeks ago, Mike Evans began some 'off-campus,' throwing sessions with Jameis Winston aimed at improving the timing between receiver and quarterback.
Head coach Dirk Koetter made it clear on Wednesday that the honeymoon is also over for the Bucs passing combination, which did not exactly thrive last season despite both players putting up some enviable numbers.
"When we get him back in the building, we have a long list of things we want to work on, starting with the deep ball,'' Koetter said of Winston. "We need to be more consistent throwing and catching the deep ball.
"I don’t think (Evans) and Jameis ever really had great chemistry that you see a lot of the top quarterbacks and receivers in the league have. How could they? They’re both such young guys and they’ve been together just one year. I think as they grow older together, you’ll see that chemistry improve.''
Winston set a club rookie record by passing for 4,024 yards and 22 touchdowns and was named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year. Evans had 1,206 receiving yards, but his touchdown total fell from 12 to three last season as he also led the league in dropped passes.
The Bucs had 139 explosive plays (of more than 20 yards), which tied for the league lead. But too often, it looked as if Winston and Evans weren't on the same page of the playbook. Much of that responsibility falls on Winston, who missed a lot of receivers running free downfield last season.
“In general, we have depths and landmarks we’re trying to hit on the field,'' Koetter said. "Depths and landmarks based on the route concept. And then the way the rules are written right now, the offensive players down the field have an advantage. How many balls deep down the sideline do you see that are either out of bounds or five yards other thrown? So our term for that is give him a chance. Give him a chance. If we’re going to go to all the trouble to call it, to protect it, to get back there, all it comes down to is we’ve got to hit this spot and give Mike Evans a chance. That’s the easy part. Probably not, but that’s what we tell Jameis. We have a weapon with Mike.''
Of course, Evans isn't blameless. He missed big chunks of the off-season the past two years because of injury and has never looked to be in very good physical shape to start the season.
"I think Mike is such a talented guy, he just needs to be more consistent, more consistent in his preparation and more consistent in his work habits,'' Koetter said. "Reports are he’s already doing a good job in this off-season. He’s just such a young guy.
“I just think having a stable situation at quarterback, having the same offense in place, Mike had to go back to back with (new offenses), and I think Todd Monken as receivers coach will be tremendous for Mike. And I just think experience is the best teacher. Me included. I’m probably one of my greatest critics, but I think he’s one of two or three players to have back to back 1,000 yard seasons in his first two years.''
Koetter said he feels good about the Bucs' receing core, led by Evans and Vincent Jackson, who at 33 showed no signs of slowing down. Jackson missed six games with knee injuries, but Koetter said they were unavoidable.
“I feel fine about our receiving core,'' Koetter said. "Obviously, at the top with Vincent and Mike. I’m not a believer that Vincent Jackson is anywhere close to being done. I think both of his injuries were extremely freakish last year. He happened to take a helmet right on the knee in both instances. Vincent is a fast healer. I think Mike is going to have a rebound year if we can call 1,200 yards a bad season.
“I’m really excited for the competition we have with the four young guys, between Adam, D.D. (Devonte Dye), Kenny Bell coming back and Evan Spencer. I’m really excited for those four and then you’ve got the two vets, Louis Murphy and Russell Shephard. I think we’ve got great competition and that’s pre-draft talk. So I don’t think our wide receivers are in bad shape at all.''
Meanwhile, Winston has worked hard to get into better physical condition. He returned from Pro Bowl inspired by the peak physical condition of Falcons receiver Julio Jones and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Winston hired a personal trainer and has been a fixture at One Buc Place in the weight room. Last week, Koetter looked onto the practice field and in the pre-dawn light could see Winston running sprints wearing a parachute for resistance.
So what would be the benchmarks Winston needs to hit to show improvement in his second season?
“I would just say in our case, it’s got to be wins,'' Koetter said. "We need to win football games. And everybody needs to win football games. But I said before, I really think for Jameis, there won’t be the unknowns. What are OTAs? What is training camp? What are the preseason games like? He won’t be complaining, “what do you mean I’m only playing one quarter?’ That drove Jameis crazy playing one quarter of the game. He wanted to play the whole game in the preseason.
“How long the season is, how sore his body is after a game. Jameis took too many hits, some of it his fault. So I think him knowing what to expect, the preparation, the weekly schedule. We have a long list of things we want him to work on and he’s already started that on his own. But the benchmark is, there’s not a three year plan, or a five year plan. We’re trying to win right now. We’ve got to win games.''
And that starts with improving the Winston-to-Evans passing combination.