Sunday, September 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs rookie safety Justin Evans quickly takes advantage of chance to play

TAMPA — Two weeks ago, rookie safety Justin Evans played a single defensive snap in the Bucs' loss at Minnesota, and it looked like the second-round draft pick might be limited to special-teams contributions for much of the year.

Two injuries have thrust him into a major role. He stepped in for much of the Bucs' win versus the Giants on Oct. 1, and then he played every snap in last week's loss to the Patriots, picking up his first career interception, off Tom Brady, no less.

"This guy is a freakish athlete, and that is why he was drafted where he was," coach Dirk Koetter said of the former Texas A&M standout. "This is no denying his talent, and it showed up big in the game."

Evans, 22, missed the Bucs' workouts in summer with a knee injury, and that set him back in training camp, where he worked only as a backup to Chris Conte and Keith Tandy. When the Bucs added Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward just before the season started, it looked like it would be even harder for Evans to get onto the field.

But hip injuries to Ward and Tandy had him playing 45 snaps against the Giants, with three tackles, and he made his first start against the Patriots, piling up nine tackles, two passes defensed and an impressive first interception.

"It doesn't surprise me," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said of Evans' success. "He's a very good football player, and he just needs reps, needs to see it. I think he's going to be a guy that's going to help us, in the short term and the long term. He's getting comfortable back there, and no disrespect to any of the other guys, but he's probably the most athletic safety that we have."

Until last week, Evans' athleticism was best known for his 41.5-inch vertical leap at the draft combine and running the 40 in 4.57 seconds at his pro day. A two-sport high school star in Mississippi, he stole 22 bases as a senior and had colleges interested in him as a pitcher with a 90-mph fastball. Entering the NFL draft, the statistics website Pro Football Focus gave as his pro comparable Seahawks star Earl Thomas.

Asked if his solid play against two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Brady helped his confidence, Evans said that has never been a problem.

"It probably upped it a little bit, but I already had that confidence going in because that's just how my confidence meter is," he said. "That's just how I am."

Evans came to the Bucs with concerns about his tackling, but Smith, calling it a "perceived weakness," said much of that was Evans being overaggressive in college, something he has already improved upon.

"He was a very aggressive player. In open space, you've got to make sure you have someone that you're working with and you're not playing it like you're the only guy on the field," Smith said. "I think he's got a much better understanding of that. I've been very pleased.

"For him to come in and have nine tackles against the defending Super Bowl champs and probably the greatest quarterback of all time and get an interception — the guy has to be excited about his first start in the NFL."

Ward and Tandy could be back healthy Sunday against the Cardinals, but Evans is staking a claim to regular playing time, if not a starting role. The Bucs have six of their next eight games on the road, and Evans already knows enough to recognize how important it is to start that run with a win Sunday.

"It's a big game for us because we're 2-2. We've got to start stacking wins," he said. "We can't be win, loss, win, loss, win, loss. If you do, you're going to be 8-8, back home (for) the playoffs. We have to find a way to keep stacking wins."

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Comments
How Booger McFarland rose from a Tampa FM station to ‘Monday Night Football’

How Booger McFarland rose from a Tampa FM station to ‘Monday Night Football’

TAMPA — When Booger McFarland auditioned for the new Monday Night Football broadcast team, producer Jay Rothman was blown away."I closed my eyes and said, 'Holy (bleep), I feel like I'm listening to football's Charles Barkley,'' Rothman said.Si...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Bucs have to be ‘reasonable,’ about their plan to play defensive tackle Vita Vea

Bucs have to be ‘reasonable,’ about their plan to play defensive tackle Vita Vea

Defensive tackle Vita Vea made it through practice this week, his first since straining his left calf muscle July 29. But coach Dirk Koetter was pretty non-committal about how much, or if, Vea will play Monday night against the Steelers."When you've ...
Published: 09/22/18

How Tampa Bay is savoring its FitzMagic carpet ride

TAMPA — Bucs fan Dallas Collins has it all planned out.On Monday night, he and his family are going to whip up an Irish Boiled Dinner. You know, corned beef, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and onions.Then they're going to sit down and watch the Buc...
Published: 09/22/18
Bucs PK Chandler Catanzaro insists he’s curse-free

Bucs PK Chandler Catanzaro insists he’s curse-free

TAMPA — When placekicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter at New Orleans and a point-after attempt last week against the Eagles, he left the door open for a possible comeback by the Saints and Eagles.The Bucs...
Published: 09/21/18
Ryan Fitzpatrick said his only goal was to go 3-0 while Jameis Winston was suspended

Ryan Fitzpatrick said his only goal was to go 3-0 while Jameis Winston was suspended

TAMPA — Shortly after he learned he would be starting the first three games this season, Ryan Fitzpatrick saw the opportunity to do something few thought would be possible.No, not take Jameis Winston's job.The Bucs starting quarterback was susp...
Published: 09/21/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Mailbag: Bucs-Steelers, Vita Vea, Rays’ playoff chances, more

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Mailbag: Bucs-Steelers, Vita Vea, Rays’ playoff chances, more

It's our mailbag episode, with questions about how many games the Bucs can win this season, the reason for their offensive explosion and what we can expect from Vita Vea this week against the Steelers.Plus, what moves should the Rays make this offsea...
Published: 09/21/18
FitzMagic is everywhere, even in Cleveland

FitzMagic is everywhere, even in Cleveland

It feels like there's FitzMagic in the air everywhere these days, even in Cleveland.When Baker Mayfield came off the bench Thursday night to lead the Browns to a 21-17 win over the Jets — Cleveland's first victory in 635 days — he became ...
Published: 09/21/18
Bucs DT Vita Vea, CB Brent Grimes return to practice, could play vs. Steelers

Bucs DT Vita Vea, CB Brent Grimes return to practice, could play vs. Steelers

TAMPA — For the first time in seven weeks, Vita Vea played football Thursday.At least it looked like the rookie defensive tackle was playing football when he walked to the Bucs' practice field wearing a helmet and full pads and took a three-poi...
Published: 09/20/18
Tell us: What are you doing to celebrate FitzMagic?

Tell us: What are you doing to celebrate FitzMagic?

Have you fallen under the spell of FitzMagic?Are you growing a beard? Naming your dogs (or your kids) after Ryan Fitzpatrick? We want to hear from you.Let us know what you're doing to celebrate the hottest player in the NFL — Tampa Bay's own Ry...
Published: 09/20/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: When might Jameis Winston return under center?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: When might Jameis Winston return under center?

Tom Jones joins Rick Stroud on today's podcast to discuss if and when Jameis Winston might regain his job as starting quarterback of the Bucs.Plus, they talk about what Tony Dungy, who is set to be inducted into the Bucs' Ring of Honor, has met ...
Published: 09/20/18