Apparently the new wide receiver made a somewhat sensational catch in Friday’s rookie minicamp session. Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune reported that head coach Lovie Smith said Evans’ astonishing grab was becoming old hat, as he’d already been showing off his skills all week.
Evans worked out with the veterans this week prior to Tampa Bay’s three-day minicamp, a weekend devoted solely to rookies and tryout players. The fact that Evans is already shining among the entire squad is promising. But the first huge step for the rookies will be to see who can separate themselves among the first-year players.
The Bucs drafted six players, all on offense. The team then signed 13 undrafted rookie free agents, invited 23 players in for a tryout, and allowed eight first-year holdover players to attend rookie minicamp. According to the Bucs’ official website, a total of 50 players will try to outshine the rest.
As many as four of Tampa Bay’s drafted rookies could push for playing time as early as Week 1. Evans will be counted on to be the Bucs’ No. 2 receiver. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay’s second-round pick, will have some competition for sure, but he should still be the Week 1 starting tight end.
Even though the Bucs are chock-full of talent at the running back position, third-round pick Charles Sims could come in and compete for touches. Sims was a highly coveted running back prospect because of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. This could get him on the field very early in his NFL career.
Tampa Bay’s sixth-round pick, wide receiver Robert Herron, has a shot at a starting gig, too. Herron is best suited as a slot receiver in the NFL, and the Bucs at least have enough wiggle room there to allow Herron to compete for the job. If he doesn’t win the spot from Day 1, he’ll still see his fair share of reps.
But Tampa Bay’s offense isn’t going to be amazingly better this season just because of the arrival of this rookie class. The Bucs did an incredible job adding talent during free agency.
Josh McCown was brought in from the Chicago Bears after throwing 13 touchdown passes and just one interception in eight games, as he filled in for the injured Jay Cutler. If McCown can put up similar numbers, and more importantly limit mistakes like he did in 2013, Tampa Bay’s offense will be drastically better.
Up front, the offensive line potentially added two new starters. Anthony Collins was signed from the Cincinnati Bengals to play left tackle, and Evan Dietrich-Smith, who played for the Green Bay Packers last season, will play center.
Collins was ranked 16th by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) among left tackles last season. In 592 pass-rush snaps, he didn’t allow a sack and only 12 quarterback hurries. Pro Football Focus ranked Dietrich-Smith eighth among NFL centers last year. Both should be upgrades from what the Bucs had in 2013.
Even though Doug Martin is neither a rookie nor free-agent addition, he should revitalize the offense in 2014, too. He only played six games last season because of a torn labrum, but he will be back this season as the Bucs’ feature back.
The Bucs have revamped their offense, and it seems as if they did it almost overnight. Not only will several new players light up the scoreboard, they’ll do so under some different schemes from new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford.
Tedford talked about his offensive mantra of getting people into space, and how that’s first established during his introductory press conference.
The philosophy is we want to make sure we can run the football; we want to be physical up front and run the football. We want to be diverse. We want to get speed in space, multiple personnel, formations.
I think it’s important to find guys who are versatile, that can do those type of things. Then great speed – when I say speed in space, to get outflanked and get guys in the open field that can make guys miss and be explosive with big plays.
The new offensive linemen not only are ranked higher as blockers, but they’re more athletic (especially Collins) than last year's bunch. This is going to help open holes for the running game that’s so important to Tedford, and also get blockers out into the second level of the defense, when necessary to bust open big plays.
Speaking of big plays, expect the run game to set up the passing attack. If McCown has time to throw, he’ll have three tree-like receivers in Vincent Jackson, Evans and Seferian-Jenkins, all of which are 6’5” and have good hands.
Add in Herron, who can get vertical quickly, and Sims, who will be a dangerous receiving option from the backfield, and the Tampa Bay offense is beginning to look like an explosive, multi-faceted juggernaut.
There are still question marks, though.
Is Mike Glennon really the quarterback of the future, or was that just coach speak from Smith? If Smith was serious, could he push McCown this season?
Can the offensive line, and the running back corps, stay healthy? Both have been issues in Tampa Bay of late. For the most part, however, optimism greatly outweighs any kinds of questions about this offense.
New general manager Jason Licht and Smith have assembled the tools to quickly turn around an offense that ranked 32nd in passing yards last season and 22nd in rushing. Both those figures could be in the top half of the league in 2014. If that happened, it’d be easy to see the Bucs double their win total from four to eight, in just one season.
That’s how good this offense can be.
Unless otherwise noted all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.