The Bucs' top pick in this year's draft announced it casually after his first rookie camp workout on Friday: "I was a little out of shape and threw up after conditioning."
The last thing anyone around here wants is any sign of illness after a season in which the Bucs dealt with a wave of MRSA that hurt the franchise's reputation and ended with a purge in the coaching and front-office ranks. Tampa Bay football has been completely redone, all the way down to the uniforms, and Lovie Smith's first draft included only offensive players. Evans, a monstrous receiver out of Texas A&M, can't lag in any way if Lovieball is to bring in more excitement than Greg Schiano's plodding teams.
Fortunately for everyone at One Buc Place, Evans is not out of shape or under the weather in any way. Quite the opposite. After that first practice with the vets, he reached out to his old wide receivers coach at A&M, David Beaty, and told him about the loss of his lunch.
"He texted me right after," Beaty said by phone on Saturday. "'Guess what? I threw up after conditioning.' I wrote him back, 'You did that every winter!' "
Evans became more known for his other tendency in College Station: making ridiculous catches. And he did just that in his first rookie camp session in Florida. Quarterback Brett Smith, undrafted out of Wyoming, looked off a safety and spotted a linebacker in the middle of the field. He lofted a pass over the defender and immediately realized it was sailing on him. Into his vision came a long arm and a mammoth hand: It was Evans, hauling it in with one paw and eliciting a roar from the otherwise-quiet group on the practice field.
Smith turned to the coaching staff and mouthed, "Oh wow."
It's only the first weekend of his career, but it's hard not to notice what rookie wideout Solomon Patton noticed about the top-10 pick: "How freakish of an athlete he is." Evans, who is 6-foot-5, has been grouped with rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-6) and veteran receiver Vincent Jackson (6-5) and labeled as the "Dunkaneers" for their height and leaping ability. New starting quarterback Josh McCown (a mere 6-4) will try to help his pass catchers play an entire season above the rim (above the crossbar?) and give the Bucs an offensive identity that hasn't been there since … pretty much ever. Even when the Bucs were Super-Bowl-good, they were mostly uninteresting on offense. That may have suddenly changed under new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, and Evans is a huge part of why.
The misconception about Evans and other tall receivers is that their height and jumping ability is all they need. We've seen enough of Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez to think a quarterback can just throw a jump ball into the air and the big guy will haul it in. It's more complicated than that, and Evans is a prime example.
"Taller guys are generally not flexible," said Beaty, "and he was no different."
Evans came to A&M with a basketball background (like Seferian-Jenkins) and he made 82 catches in his first college season mostly by boxing out. The problem is size allows a defensive back a bigger target. Corners couldn't leap with Evans, but they could slow him down. Beaty worked with Evans on getting smaller – lowering his hips at the line of scrimmage so he could release faster and beat his man horizontally before beating him vertically.
"He spent a ton of time on his flexibility training," Beaty said, "and playing with bent knees and bent hips. That was a huge part of his development. It helped with his ability to get in and out of breaks."
That, and keeping his weight down – Evans is only 231 pounds – has given him a burst off the line that even some small receivers don't have. He ran a 4.53 in the 40 at the combine.
Not that Evans is in any way delicate. Beaty remembers how Evans would line up on the right side and then reach across his body with his left arm and yank a defender out of his way. ("I don't even know if that's legal," Beaty said.) The same hands that allow the highlight-reel grabs in practice are also going to be a major pain for would-be interferers on deep routes.
What's interesting about Evans' rookie season is not only how high his ceiling can be (literally) but also whether more of the credit for Johnny Manziel's superb college career belongs with his top target. "In my opinion, he made Johnny Manziel, not the other way around," one scout told NJ.com in the weeks leading up to the draft. "A lot of times, Manziel just ran around and threw it up for grabs, and he came down with it."
Beaty believes Manziel threw his passes exactly where he knew Evans would get them, and that's certainly possible. But it's just as possible Evans will flourish even more with an NFL veteran like McCown throwing him the ball. And Evans is no longer the receiver who will be a magnet for multiple defensive backs – not with Jackson on the field.
It's hard to find one receiver who is 6-5 and can run gracefully and leap with control. The Bucs now may have three. It's just too bad the Dunkaneers can no longer legally dunk a football over the crossbar after touchdowns.
Bucs fans will get over that. As long as this year's group of receivers can stay healthy, Evans and his shipmates could be sick.
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