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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Davis Has Helped Evans Become The Bully

It’s hard to believe that such a talented receiver like Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans barely eclipsed 1,000 yards last year. In fact, he finished with 1,001 yards and five touchdowns on 71 receptions a year after making his first Pro Bowl with 96 catches for 1,321 yards and a team-record 12 touchdowns in 2016.

Evans had just one 100-yard receiving game, an eight-catch, 107-yard day at Carolina on Christmas Eve last year. He had four in 2016.

Evans also didn’t have a game in which he caught multiple touchdowns – something he had three times in the previous season.

Don’t blame Jameis Winston’s shoulder injury for a less than stellar year from Evans. Instead, note the competition Evans faced and find the common denominators for his sub-par play. I did just that and found out that Evans struggled against some of the league’s bigger cornerbacks despite his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame.

Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes, who is 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, held Evans to 67 yards on seven catches (9.7 avg.) in Week 2. Evans had just five catches for 49 yards (9.8 avg.) against New England’s Stephon Gilmore, who is 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, in Week 5. Against New Orleans’ 6-foot, 196-pound Pro Bowl rookie Marshon Lattimore, Evans was held to a season-low one catch for 13 yards in Week 9 and got into a fight with Lattimore than got him suspended the next week against the New York Jets.

Against Green Bay’s Damarious Randall (6-0, 196) and Davon House (6-0, 195), Evans was held to two catches for 33 yards. The following week against Detroit, Detroit Pro Bowler Darius Slay (6-0, 190) held Evans to just two catches for 25 yards.

It’s not as if all big cornerbacks were Evans’ kryptonite last year, as he was able to catch three passes for 95 yards and a touchdown against Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, who may be the top corner in the NFL. In another marquee match-up against Seattle’s Richard Sherman, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound Pro Bowler, Evans had eight catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns during the 2016 season.

And in the rematch against Lattimore, Evans fared slightly better, catching five passes for 55 yards in Tampa Bay’s 31-24 upset of New Orleans in the season finale, but it wasn’t a dominant performance.

Evans wins one-on-one match-ups against cornerbacks using his size, strength and straight-line speed. While he moves well for such a big man, it’s hard for any 6-foot-5, 225-pound receiver to be agile and quick. That’s not Evans’ game. So facing bigger cornerbacks negates some of what makes Evans so dominant.

Considering the fact that Tampa Bay’s cornerback corps has been relatively small except for 6-foot-2 Johnthan Banks, who played with the Bucs from 2013-16, Evans doesn’t get much practice going against big, talented cornerbacks except when facing opponents on Sundays.

Until now.

Bucs WR Mike Evans and WRs coach Skyler Fulton - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs WR Mike Evans and WRs coach Skyler Fulton – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

When the Bucs selected long-armed, 6-foot-1, 206-pound Carlton Davis in the second round out of Auburn this spring, Evans finally had some one to test him physically every single day in practice. That will only prepare him for the bigger, more physical cornerbacks he’ll face during the 2018 season.

“I think it’s just a repetition thing – if you ever played against a ton of big corners, you get some reps against them and adjust accordingly,” said Bucs wide receivers coach Skyler Fulton. “I do think that Mike can bully anybody. There’s not a corner in this league that’s big enough for Mike not to bully at will if that’s what Mike tries to do, just so you know that.

“It’s a repetition thing and it is good that we got Carlton Davis here and even M.J. Stewart in terms of being physical corners that will come up at the line and force you to play at the snap of the ball to get that work. So, I think it’s been great, I think you’re right in terms of some of the teams will get those bigger corners to match-up with Mike. But ultimately Mike can run and the tools that he has. And even DeSean (Jackson) and Chris (Godwin) and all the other guys in the locker room that we have to against these physical rookie corners. I think it’s a good match-up for us in practice.”

Battling a big, supremely confident player like Davis every day has helped Evans improve his game against physical press cornerbacks.

“We’ve had long guys here before, but they were on the practice squad,” Evans said. “They didn’t play. This No. 33 is a player. He doesn’t play like a rookie. He reminds me of Xavier Rhodes. Not as thick – but long. He can run. He’s going to be a real good player for us.”

Davis likes the idea of helping Evans, but going up against the second-highest paid receiver in the NFL will only help him when he battles similarly-sized receivers in the NFC South division like Atlanta’s Julio Jones (6-3, 220), Carolina’s Devin Funchess (6-4, 225) and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas (6-3, 212).

“I get a lot of work with big receivers everyday at practice,” Davis said. Mike is one of the best in the league, so I’m not too worried about the other receivers just because I get a chance to see one everyday. I think practicing with Mike everyday can transition over into the game.

“I definitely think Mike and I make each other better going against each other in practice every day and going hard. It’s good to see a big receiver that can move and I know for him it’s good to see a big corner that can move every day. Just as we both help each other out, we can climb to new altitudes.”

Bucs WR Mike Evans and CB Carlton Davis - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs WR Mike Evans and CB Carlton Davis – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

The work Davis has been giving Evans in practice all training camp will be tested in Week 1 in New Orleans when Evans squares off against Lattimore for the third time.

“He’s the defensive rookie of the year, obviously he had a great year,” Evans said. “He’s a good player, I look forward to the match-up, and we’ll both be fresh and healthy, so it will be a good one. There are bigger corners than him but he’s one of the best in the game already. I look forward to going against all corners, especially the ones that have been to the Pro Bowl and been All-Pro.”

“I’m ready to win my match-ups, especially if they’re going to play a lot of man coverage. I got to win my matchups if I find myself in that, and hopefully I get a lot of one-on-one’s this year against those better cornerbacks.”

Thanks in part in Davis’ stiff competition in practice Evans is ready to bully around Lattimore and every other cornerback else this year.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

17 COMMENTS

  1. This is a hopeful Fab 5, Scott. The roster sounds solid across the board. I hope the depth is there to sustain, what seems to be, the constant Achille’s heel for this team. I saw the 5-11 prediction from SI for the Bucs this year. That seems insane to me. I hope that Monken has continued success as the play caller and Koetter can take advantage of that new freedom to hone his HC skills. This team is solid. I suppose it could be 5-11 or 11-5? I’ll feeling 8 or 9 wins at this point.

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  2. I haven’t seen Kwon stand out in preseason games so far. Being a vocal leader is all well, and good but to many times I’ve seen him fill the wrong gap, or completely whiff on a tackle, not to mention he gets completely blown away by any guard who reaches him. Maybe he’s looked better in practice, but he hasn’t had one oh wow play during the last two games, so I don’t know where the A grade is coming from. To me he’s an average MLB. I think he’s to small for the position, and might be better suited to play WILL.

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  3. What about Stevie T? Is he headed to practice squad?

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    • Wasn’t he cut or waived injured?

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      • Waived (injury), I think.

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  4. It seems as though GM Licht has learned his lesson from last moving on from the likes of Chris Baker to absolute workhorses like Allen, Unrein, and Curry. From everything I’ve seen of him so far, JPP was well worth what it cost Licht from the trade with NY. Preseason games don’t always show what we’re going to see during the regular season, but both games have shown me this team is going to play hard every snap – unlike what I saw during last year’s preseason games. What I’ve been most impressed with this season is all three QBs – our 3rd stringer QB looks like he might actually be able to hold his own if called upon this season, which hasn’t been the case since he arrived in Tampa.

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  5. Wester is a better tackle than Seaton or Liedtke

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  6. Hard to disagree with any on that proposed roster, but I would not be surprised if some shuffling or trades happened before NO.

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  7. Really good job with your fab 5 Scott. I like the player grade analysis as well.

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  8. I like everybody on the team as to their personalities and the efforts they are trying to make. I just don’t see Spence and Gholston better than Clark or O’Connor. I would go short at defensive end position rather than keep those two. As of right now I see Ryan Smith not making the team unless he shows something tonight.
    Did I miss injury status as to Safety Evans? Anybody know his injury status?

    This is the best defensive team we’ve had in a long time, and I believe Coach Smith is going to bring nothing to the plate if he continues to play conservative defense. I sure hope I am wrong as to Coach Smith as the way I look at it right now we’ll be lucky if we win 6 games. You just can’t play vanilla defense in the NFL; we’re very predictable on defense. Maybe some of our injuries are due to players trying to do more because of this scheme?

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  9. Baker got closer to that tree in Hard Knocks than any QB’s over the last few years.

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  10. Great Fab Five Scott, and thanks for bringing back the thumbs up and down! You guys have done a great job with the website – and just in time for the season!

    Going to the game tonight and can’t wait! Go Bucs!!!

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  11. Kwon as an A? Ehhhhhhh. Haven’t been impressed. Barely notice him in the few times he played. Hopefully he shows up in the season like he has in the past.

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  12. Loved your roster and comments, Scott. Seaton did have to hold to prevent a sack but every other play he looked solid to me not allowing the first sack. I think he has some potential and glad to see you included him on your roster. I have never seen Wester playing that well. I wish there was a way to keep Ogunbowale because he has the potential to replace Barber if he goes down. I hope Jones gets a good run tonight. Go Bucs. Shoot the canons tonight. Detroit has not gotten a single sack this preseason so Fitz and Jameis should have time to carve them up. I know Detroit can run the ball and our defense needs to show they can stop them!

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  13. Winning this game at the half but the defense is not good. The kicking situation is not acceptable, the coaches and GM are suspect along with this dud of a kicker.

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  14. lol sergio bailey was never going to make the team over bobo wilson maybe not even over martino

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  15. also probably less than 10% chance lambert makes the team over clarke . clarke was being used as the no 3 de in the game last night. that doesn’t just happen spontaneously obviously been showing something in camp to warrent getting those snaps . i thought y’all were supposed to be out there everyday watching practice getting a read on what’s going on. but you come out with a 53 man roster prediction with a guy who’s solidly been in the rotation thus far in preseason not making the cut? makes me wonder just how much cred i can put into those practice analysis yall like to do.

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