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Look, Mom! One hand! Mike Evans and the art of the one-handed catch

LAKE BUENA VISTA — When the NFL's official site posted a highlight video of the top 50 catches of the 2016 season, No. 1 on the list wasn't a game-winner or even a touchdown.

It was a leaping sideline grab by the Bucs' Mike Evans in a lopsided loss to the Falcons on a Thursday night in November.

Evans saw a pass from Jameis Winston, high and a bit behind him, turned his body and leapt high for a one-handed catch, pulling the ball in and getting both feet inbounds, then holding on as rookie safety Keanu Neal delivered a crushing helmet-first hit on the sideline.

As the NFL's best receivers assemble in Orlando this week for Sunday's Pro Bowl, the one-handed catch remains a can't-miss crowd-pleaser, something that put Giants star Odell Beckham on the map and still inspires one-upmanship.

"It's become more of an entertainment than a competition," says Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, whose wild, diving one-handed grab against the 49ers was No. 2 on the same NFL highlight rankings. "The younger kids are in awe of the one-handed catch. In terms of technique, it's still just keeping your eye on the ball. How you catch it with two hands is the same way you catch with one."

ESPN devoted an hour of prime-time programming Thursday to a Pro Bowl skills competition, with Evans leading off as one of four receivers challenged to make an array of circus catches — one-handed, sideline toe-tapping, over-the-shoulder plays. Beckham was ultimately edged out by his former LSU teammate and friend, Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry.

"It's not about intentionally trying to make a one-handed catch to make a highlight reel, but if the moment permits, I'll be ready for it," Landry said. "I practice it. I'm held to a higher standard now. I challenge myself to make every catch."

The Pro Bowl, an exhibition with no coach on the sideline to scold a player for drops, is an opportunity to impress the best. The Cowboys' Dez Bryant likes watching his fellow receivers set the bar high for each other.

"Odell, Mike Evans, Doug Baldwin," said Bryant, naming his favorites on a single hand. "Even in the AFC, Jarvis Landry, all those guys. I love seeing people be great."

Evans always has had a knack for one-handed grabs. He made a memorable one across the middle on his first day of 2014 minicamp.

Evans is 6 feet 5, and his basketball background had him palming a bigger ball as a matter of habit. Today's draft prospects have their hands measured to the nearest eighth of an inch, knowing they need every bit of their grip to reel in passes with one hand or both.

But the one-handed grab isn't for everyone, more of an outstretched last resort for some than anything you'd practice or try to do against fundamental instincts.

"I just want to catch it," Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "God gave me two hands, so I want to use both of them."

Baldwin said he expects amazing catches from receivers, so he's more impressed when he sees a defensive back make a play like Arizona's Patrick Peterson's one-handed sideline interception against the Bills.

"Odell, I think he's the one who gets all the attention," Baldwin said, "but if I had to put him up against Pat P's catches, Pat P might win it."

If there's a play from the Pro Bowl that fans are likely to pull up on their phones or talk about at the office the next day, it might be another one-handed grab, at least if the receivers have anything to say about it.

"Everybody works on it. It doesn't just stick on its own — you have to have the right hand placement, right grip and everything," Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "If you're good enough to catch it with one hand, why not try?"

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Super Bowl LI

Patriots vs. Falcons, 6:30 Feb. 5, Houston TV: Fox Line/OU: Patriots by 3; 58½

Look, Mom! One hand! Mike Evans and the art of the one-handed catch 01/27/17 [Last modified: Friday, January 27, 2017 11:08pm]
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