Thursday, April 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Mike Evans begins to learn NFL's lessons

TAMPA — On one of the first days of training camp, receiver Mike Evans lined up against Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner during a one-on-one passing drill. The Bucs rookie tried to shake and bake. He threw a head fake. He stutter-stepped.

One second passed. Then two. Verner put down his cup of coffee and decided to cover the kid.

"We work on releases all the time. Alterraun was right there, and he didn't budge," Evans said, shaking his head. "I gave him so many moves, and he didn't budge. You have to be real technical and give it all you got. There is a lot of grabbing and clutching at this level."

At 6 feet 5, he towers over most defensive backs and holds a physical advantage on the 5-10 Verner.

But size doesn't matter if a receiver can't get off the line of scrimmage and into a route. That's among the first lessons Evans will have to learn to be successful in the NFL.

"Everybody is different when it comes to getting off the ball," Verner said. "With him being a bigger guy, he's going to be more physical. Like (6-5) Vincent Jackson, he's going to try to get his body in the way and try to get open because for him, it's not so much separation but getting into the timing and the progression.

"We want the ball to be in the air and for him to go get it. So we don't want him to spend any time at the line. Just get into his route and go get it."

Evans, a first-round pick, was among the best receivers in college, catching 151 passes for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons. But some of his biggest plays came when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel broke containment and Evans drifted behind the defense or settled in an open spot.

The NFL passing game is about timing and precision. Learning how to quickly get off the line of scrimmage by using his combination of size and speed will be the first challenge for Evans.

"You saw him making catches (Thursday)," Verner said. "I think it's just going to get better and better for him. He's a rookie, so he's going to need time to adjust. But one thing I like about him, he's willing to learn."

Quarterback Josh McCown spent time throwing with Evans between offseason workouts and training camp. Part of it was to work more with Evans on the field. The other reason was to build chemistry away from it.

"We got a lot of good work in, and it was good to get to know each other a little better," McCown said. "I think it was just valuable time to get to know each other on the field in terms of his timing and my timing, but also get to know each other as people.''

Surviving the mental grind will be as important as anything.

"The biggest hurdle is in this league, every week, there's a great corner and another guy and another guy and another guy," McCown said. "You have to be on your a game."

Perhaps that's why Evans spent two weeks in South Florida with a group of veteran NFL receivers, including the Bears' Brandon Marshall, one of McCown's favorite targets a year ago.

"He just talked to me about longevity in the league and how to run routes as a big guy," Evans said.

"Things like the rookie wall."

What's realistic to expect from Evans? He says he's not setting statistical goals. It's important to remember Lions star Calvin Johnson caught only 48 passes and four touchdowns as a rookie. Anywhere north of that might be realistic.

Even so, there is much work to be done.

"You have to be diligent," McCown said. "Because when the lights turn on and this guy who you have been watching the last four years on Monday Night Football is in front of you, you've got to find a way to beat him."

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.

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