TAMPA — Upon request, the Houston location of Lotus Seafood & Wings will whip up something called the Loud Pack, a gastronomic guilty pleasure featuring 10 boiled shrimp and Louisiana fried rice.
Mike Evans, native of nearby Galveston and Loud Pack connoisseur, had one this entire offseason. “They came and catered my daughter’s birthday,” the Bucs’ eighth-year receiver said. “And other than that I didn’t get any.”
Therein lies a dietary irony regarding the veteran who might — might — have emerged as Tampa Bay’s most outstanding player of training camp: In a year when Evans has remained more cognizant than ever of what he’s putting into his 28-year-old body, he appears ready to binge.
At least on spirals.
“It’s kind of been under the radar. We’ve noticed it,” third-year Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “This is the best he’s been since we’ve been around him. He had a hell of a camp.”
Rejuvenated by his first career taste of the postseason, and perhaps bent on avoiding the ailments (including a tweaked hamstring) that hampered him at the outset of 2020, Evans streamlined his diet and offseason training regimen following a brief vacation immediately after Super Bowl 55.
Perhaps not coincidentally, he took zero days off from training camp, a privilege afforded to the team’s veterans.
“Don’t jinx him because he’s had hamstring problems in the past,” coach Bruce Arians said recently. “He came back in great shape and he’s had a hell of a preseason so far.”
Seven months ago, Evans was capping the most gratifying — and perhaps agonizing — season of his pro career. The early hamstring issues were followed by a tweaked ankle that slowed him in October.
Then, one play after clinching his seventh career 1,000-yard season with a 20-yard catch across the middle in the regular season finale against the Falcons, Evans hyperextended his knee while (unsuccessfully) trying to bring in a Tom Brady throw in the end zone. He missed no playoff action, however, catching 11 passes including two touchdowns in the posteason.
No sooner than he came ashore following the team’s celebratory boat parade, he went back to work.
“I work out a little bit more, but I work out smarter when I do it,” said Evans, the only receiver in NFL history to open his career with seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.”
“When the Super Bowl was over, this was the longest I’ve ever played, 20-plus weeks. I took like, a week or two off, went on vacation, then started working out with my trainer.”
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While not totally swearing off any certain food, he ate far less of the calorific stuff. Instead of running 100 routes in a session, he focused on something specific (such as yards after the catch). He also maintained his playing weight — around 230 pounds — during the offseason instead of being forced to drop 10 or 15 pounds in late summer.
As a result, he said he felt in better shape this preseason than in any of his previous seven pro training camps.
“As long as I’m in good shape and I’m healthy, I feel I’m the best receiver on the planet,” Evans said. “So I just try to work on that mainly.”
Combine the conditioning with clairvoyance (such as being on the same page with his quarterback), and Evans appears poised for yet another 1,000-yard season, even as the number of Brady targets continues accumulating.
When the team engaged in its second joint workout with the Titans, one day after an especially mistake-prone scrimmage, it was Evans being targeted early and often by Brady, who found his 6-foot-5 wideout on at least two downfield routes.
In his brief appearance with the first-team offense in the preseason finale against the Texans, Evans had two catches for 20 yards on three targets.
“He’s a big, fast, physical receiver, but he’s very smart as well,” cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting said. “A lot of the times he’s running routes, he’s calling out coverage while he’s running the route. I’m not sure if Tom even hears him, but it’s the idea and the fact that he’s doing it.
“He’s just grown in that aspect, figuring out defenses and where to sit down and when to sit down. I know he’s known how to do that his entire career, but it’s definitely gotten better over the years I’ve been here.”
Now a loud pack of another kind — roughly 65,000 fans — awaits Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium. In the wake of the most disciplined spring and summer of his life, Evans is ready for a smorgasbord of another sort.
Time to get fed.
“I do think this, if you haven’t won a Super Bowl or you haven’t kind of won big so to speak, then man, you taste it and you go, ‘Man, that’s pretty darn good stuff, let’s go try and do it again,’” quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said.
“There’s something about getting a taste of winning big games that stays in you. ... (Evans) has just a great look on his face as another who has stayed healthy through this camp and has gotten better and better and better.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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