TAMPA — It’s too early to suggest with any validity that Bucs safety Justin Evans won’t be ready to practice when training camp opens in late July, but Evans’ recent surgical procedure on a nagging toe injury isn’t encouraging.
Evans, who missed six of the last seven games of the season last year with the toe injury, attended Tuesday’s first mandatory minicamp practice with a hard boot on his left leg. Evans has watched from the sidelines throughout offseason training activities, but the boot was a new sight Tuesday.
"He just had another procedure that they wanted it calm down and keep it in a boot," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said of Evans.
Evans wore a similar boot throughout the end of last season.
He started last season well, scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the Bucs’ Week 1 win in New Orleans. He intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in the team’s Monday Night Football loss to the Steelers in Week 3.
But he couldn’t shake a toe injury he suffered in the Bucs’ Week 10 loss to Washington. He returned three weeks later against the Panthers, but played just over a third of the team’s defensive snaps that day and remained inactive the rest of the year. When the Bucs placed Evans on injured reserve in Week 16, he was the fifth Week 1 defensive starter — and the third starting defensive back — to land on IR.
Edwards making impression
Rookie safety Mike Edwards, the team’s third-round pick out of Kentucky, came to the Bucs with the reputation of being a ballhalk. And he’s already made a quick impression.
During Tuesday’s practice, Edwards produced a heady interception, making a lunging catch of a deflected pass and running it back for what would have been a pick-six.
It’s clear Arians loves the rookie defensive backs the team drafted, a group that includes Edwards, and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean. All three players have received first-team reps and Arians raves often about them, to the point that last week, we said the secondary was “fixed.”
But Arians didn’t want to give Edwards too much credit for the interception Tuesday.
“I think that ball hit the ground, but that’s okay‚” Arians joked. “He’s doing really, really well. … Maybe he’d have to challenge it. But he’s doing really, really well.”
Edwards said: "I feel like I caught that one. We'll see (on the tape)."
Edwards has also already shown his flexibility by earning Field 1 snaps at safety and nickel back.
Arians: There’s value in four-game preseason
After NFL commissioner Roger Goodell restated his desire to shrink the existing four-game preseason schedule on Monday, Arians said that those final preseason contests are critical for the last few players trying to make a team.
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"I think when you have a 90-man roster, those four games are important for those last eight guys, because they're going to get all that exposure," Arians said. "(The fourth game) can be really important for the bottom half or your roster. Do I think you need them in your first year with a rookie quarterback? Hell, yeah. You really like it.
— Receiver Mike Evans did not participate in Tuesday’s practice. He was also an observer in last week’s OTA practices, which has allowed other receivers to get first-and second-team reps.
— Jameis Winston showed nice touch by placing a touchdown pass over the middle to Breshad Perriman in 7-on-7 drills.
— Wide receiver Scotty Miller continued to show his breakaway speed, catching a long touchdown pass in practice.
— Keep an eye on undrafted free-agent receiver DaMarkus Lodge, who has great length. The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder plucked a pair of balls out of the air Tuesday.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.