Bucs safety Justin Evans hasn’t been able to play the game of football in an organized setting since December of 2018. After going on injured reserved following a week 10 game against Carolina for a foot injury, Evans has had longer road back to getting healthy than expected.
The injuries on his foot ranged from his toe to his heel, and Evans eventually had some problems with his other foot as well. He still was expected to be ready by the time OTAs rolled around, but when they did, Evans was still in a walking boot and the waiting continued.
“It was just one thing after another,” Evans said. “Just this toe and this injury on my feet. I always had just some little nicks, and then over time throughout last season, throughout playing, the football wear and tear just got worse and worse. That’s what I’ve been dealing with.”
After months and months of rehab to get healthy, Evans was taken off of the PUP list on Saturday after his physical. On Sunday, he got to practice with the team for the first time this season, and it was a refreshing feeling for the third year safety.
“It feels great to be back out there,” Evans said. “[Coming back] during OTAs was the plan but it didn’t come through. It took a little extra time, but I’m back healthy now, though.”
Constantly waiting to get back out onto the field takes a lot of patience and can be frustrating. At times, Evans felt like he would never get back to this point as a starter in the NFL because of the difficulty around overcoming his foot injury.
“I’m human,” Evans said. “I get a little down sometimes but I also know that I keep my confidence, keep my head held high, the rest is going to come out, whatever, so regardless I was always good.”
Evans’ return to practice comes at a good time with the Bucs being thin at safety with Mike Edwards being sidelined with a hamstring injury.
The first step was returning back to the field, but the work isn’t done. Next up for Evans is getting back into football shape with in game speed along with playing in a new defense.
“It’s all based on being on the field,” Evans said. “You get a feel for it, so obviously not being on the field I haven’t been getting the best work I could possibly get. But I was hurt so that’s the way it went and that’s just how it was. I’m back healthy now again.”
Evans hasn’t been a stranger to the facility during his time out, though, as you could always see him following along and watching practice even when on the sidelines in a jersey. And that’s helped him get up to date with learning the defense.
“Being out there you get accustomed to it,” Evans said.”But I’ve been real good in the meeting rooms learning all my plays, trying to stay as best conditioned as I can, but you always can’t really just stay in too much football shape unless you’re playing football so, it will come.”
While the fourth preseason isn’t the most exciting for football fans due to only the backups playing, the Bucs game on Thursday against the Cowboys could be spiced up if Evans gets a chance to play. He indicated that he would be playing in his home state of Texas, and gave no concerns about playing so soon after all that time away.
“I’m good now,” Evans said. “I actually think I’m playing Thursday. I’ll play like a quarter.”
Evans has his sights set on returning and Bruce Arians is optimistic as well. But the head coach pumped the breaks just a little bit, saying he wants to see him feel good in practice before he tests it in game.
“We’ll see if it’s feasible,” Arians said. “He went through individual today, no problems, we’ll probably put him in some reps tomorrow and Tuesday and walk through Wednesday, and we’ll see how he travels. I’d love to get him in the game to start getting his eyes trained in this defense because it’s so different than when he’s played. It’s good to see him out there.”
If he can remain healthy, Evans plans to be an important fixture in the Bucs defensive plans. Arians acknowledged the magnitude of talent that Evans can bring to this team along with his in-game instinct.
“He’s a freaky athlete,” Arians said. “He’s a really really heady and smart player. You can tell on tape he gets it, he sees it, and he’s out there making all the calls all spring.”
Evans feels just the same way in terms of his excitement level for playing under Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The Bucs defense has already impressed so far in the preseason, and now he wants to add to it. Bowles relies on his safeties often in his defensive planning, so Evans is ready to get into the mix.
“I want to be a part of our defense as we call it,” Evans said. “So I definitely want to be a part of it, I want to contribute to it, for sure. Coach Bowles, he does a lot with his safeties so I’ll be doing a bunch of stuff. Bumping down, blitzing, cover-two, high safety, coming down playing strong safety. I like it a lot because I get to do a bunch of different things.”