TAMPA – Buccaneers rookie safety Justin Evans was a busy man last week. After getting onto the field for just eight defensive snaps the first two games, he was in on 45 of the 80 snaps the defense played during the Bucs 25-23 victory over the Giants.
He should get on the field for even more snaps tonight.
With starting safety Keith Tandy and top backup T.J. Ward both listed as doubtful because of hip injuries, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said Evans will make his first NFL start tonight when the Bucs take on the Patriots at Raymond James Stadium.
It’s quite an undertaking for the Bucs second-round draft pick but after holding his own against the Eli Manning and the Giants last week, Koetter believes the team’s second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M is more than ready for the extra duty.
“He’s getting real close to being ready to break out,’’ Koetter said.
Few have ever doubted that a breakout was in the offing at some point for Evans. Though he’s still a bit raw as a tackler, a guy who still thinks more about making a big hit than just making the play, he has long been considered a defensive tone setter.
He’s a player who likes to make big hits because he can. Despite his 5-fot-11, 199-pound frame, he can deliver a wallop. But he racked up 23 missed tackles last year alone largely because his focus was on finishing off his target rather than finishing the play.
The Bucs have worked to refine that mindset and after making three tackles during those 45 snaps last week we’ll get a chance to see just how well he’s adjusted his game tonight. It’ll be a baptism under fire for Evans going against Tom Brady and one Bucs coach can’t wait to see it.
“I’m excited about watching him play in this environment that we are going to be playing (in) on Thursday,’’ Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said earlier this week. “Justin has done everything that we’ve asked.
“He’s shown up on special teams through the first three games and when he has had the opportunity to play on defense, he’s done a really nice job there for us. It will be fun to watch. I’m anticipating he is going to play like our young linebackers played. I really do.’’
Smith was referring to third-year weak-side linebacker Adarius Glanton and rookie middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who stepped in as the starters last week for Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander and made it look as if neither David nor Alexander was gone.
The Bucs will likely be leaning on both Glanton and Beckwith again tonight, as well as Evans, who is expected to start opposite Chris Conte. At the very least, it will give Brady a look he probably wasn’t expecting to see.