TAMPA — As the Bucs rebuild their offense in the post-Tom Brady era, re-establishing Mike Evans as a threat in the red zone is one of their focuses, head coach Todd Bowles said.
During the first two seasons with the future Hall of Fame quarterback, Evans dominated in the red zone. Last season, however, Evans’ numbers within the 20-yard line plummeted.
Tuesday, after the Bucs’ fourth day of organized team activities, Bowles admitted that getting that threat back is important.
“We’ve got to make that a priority,” Bowles said after onfield workouts at the AdventHealth Training Center. “Obviously, I think we made it a priority last year. Sometimes it was shut down, sometimes we just misread it here and there, whether it was on the receiver line or the O-linemen.
“We’ve got to get better in that area and get (Evans) the football. We know he’s a threat and we know he’s a great player. So we’ve got to constantly find ways to get it to not just (Evans), but Chris (Godwin) as well.”
In 2021, Evans was targeted 19 times in the red zone and caught 14 passes for 10 touchdowns. The year before he caught 11 of 18 targeted passes for nine touchdowns.
In 2022 there was a stark difference, including an 11-week stretch without Evans scoring from the red zone. He was targeted 14 times, but caught just seven. He scored three touchdowns from inside the 20 on the season.
Power and speed
When the Bucs drafted defensive end Calijah Kancey with their first-round pick, they could imagine him working with veteran nose tackle Vita Vea and developing a power-and-speed combo on the defensive line.
Tuesday, they didn’t have to imagine it anymore; they could actually see it.
Vea, who was not at the portion of practice the media was allowed to watch last week, was there Tuesday morning, working with the rookie.
“It’s big. They’ve got to develop some camaraderie,” Bowles said. “Obviously. You’ve got speed. And power, and you got a power guy. ... To have him out here and those guys learn from him is great.”
Vea lead the Bucs in sacks last season with 6.5, but he was double-teamed 65.8% of the time. The Bucs hope that Kancey will help take some of the burden off Vea and they can combine to put more pressure on the quarterback.
“He could have a huge impact,” Bowles said of Kancey. “(If) you get more tackles for losses, you get less run and you get more passes, so you’re trying to play on the other side of the ball more. In the past, we’ve been bigger and heavier, stouter, and now we have some stout in this and we have some explosion up there.”
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Last week quarterback Baker Mayfield let it slip that wide receiver Russell Gage might be injured, but Bowles declined to clear that up Tuesday.
“We don’t talk about injuries at (organized team activities),” Bowles simply said when asked.
Mayfield previously said “Russell (had) a little bit of an injury last week,” when asked about learning his new receivers.
Gage was injured in training camp last year and ended the season with a neck injury and concussion that had him leave the wild-card game against Dallas.
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