TAMPA — At times, the excruciation nearly matched the exhilaration.
For Mike Evans, catches frequently were accompanied by cringes in 2020. From a tweaked hamstring to an ankle sprain to a hyperextended knee, the resilient Bucs veteran might have set a single-season mark for wincing, all while becoming the first player in NFL history to gain 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first seven seasons.
“Just the consummate pro, man,” tight end Cameron Brate said during the Bucs’ postseason run last January.
Hence the reason that of all the encouraging signs emanating from the Bucs’ three-day mandatory minicamp this week — from rookie Joe Tryon’s sleekness to Tom Brady’s crispness — perhaps the most uplifting was Evans bereft of a limp or grimace.
“Looked fantastic today,” coach Bruce Arians said Thursday, moments after the camp’s final practice ended. “He’s in great shape, probably the best shape I’ve seen Mike this time of year.”
As if to punctuate the camp, Evans provided a highlight in Thursday’s waning stages, hauling in a deep ball that Tom Brady placed perfectly on his back shoulder in 11-on-11 work.
“I feel great,” Evans said. “I’m just learning how to take care of my body better in the offseason, working out more, working out smarter, as well — I feel like that’s been key. I definitely feel a lot better than I have in the past in (voluntary workouts) and minicamp.”
Similarly, the ambitions remain healthy. Evans, still only 27, said he wants to extend his streak of 1,000-yard seasons, a task that got a bit more daunting when the Bucs recently added even more pass-catching weapons (free-agent tailback Giovani Bernard, rookie speedster Jaelon Darden).
“But of course, who doesn’t want to play with great players and guys that can just make plays opposite you?” Evans said.
“That’s all you want, and I thought we complemented each other well last year. We definitely have 10-plus guys that can have a game-breaking game at any time. So it feels real good to have that much talent out there.”
Considering his most recent season, which was bookended by injuries, it also likely feels good to ... well ... feel good.
No greater microcosm for Evans’ historic year exists than his final two plays of the regular season. His 20-yard catch across the middle against the Falcons made him the first NFL player to gain 1,000 yards in each of his first seven seasons. The next play, he lost his footing trying to make a catch in the end zone, hyperextending his knee.
That injury followed a hamstring ailment that slowed him at the season’s outset, and the ankle issue that nagged him in early October. Still, only six days after needing assistance to exit the field against the Falcons, Evans set the Bucs’ playoff receiving record with 119 yards (on six catches) against Washington.
A month after that, he was basking in the revelry of the team’s celebratory boat parade, and later receiving a key to the city from his hometown of Galveston, Texas, during Mike Evans Day.
“That boat parade was unbelievable, that was one of the best things I’ve ever seen,” said Evans, who finished the 2020 regular season with 70 catches for 1,006 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“And then to follow it up and have the parade in my city (Galveston), that’s what I’m shooting for. When I’m out there tired, I’m just thinking about that boat parade and that parade in my city, and trying to get that again.”
Another round of parades might — just might — lead to the ultimate one in Canton, Ohio. At the least, an eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season and second Super Bowl would solidify Evans’ Hall of Fame argument.
At best, it cements it.
“Obviously No. 1 is getting back to the postseason and defending our title, winning the Super Bowl,” he said. “And I definitely want to extend the record, the streak of 1,000-yard seasons, and just have a lot of fun this season, and stay injury-free as much as possible.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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