TAMPA — A blooper is no way to start your NFL career.
Saturday night, Bucs rookie receiver Mike Evans nailed steps 1 through 3.
Step 4 was the only problem.
1. Catch ball
2. Break tackle
3. Race 41 yards for end zone
Evans, the Bucs’ top draft pick, No. 7 overall, came within inches of his first professional touchdown. He was racing down the left side, inches away from being a story line, the right kind, at least, before being stripped at the 1-yard line by Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes. Touchback for Miami.
Tough deal. Embarrassing moment.
Mike Evans will be back — in a big way.
Yes, his mishap had to make a takeaway guru like Bucs coach Lovie Smith cringe slightly during the team’s exhibition home opener, lost points on a night when the new Bucs’ formula mostly worked, when Smith’s team turned a takeaway into points: a Gerald McCoy sack, a Michael Johnson recovery, a Josh McCown touchdown ball to Vincent Jackson.
Evans’ first touchdown grab would have been the perfect bookend.
Instead, he turned points into a takeaway. He should have tucked the ball on the left arm, not the right, to prevent a strip from the right. Rookie mistake.
There’s still time.
Time for Mike Evans’ time.
Lovie saw that, too.
We all did. We saw the 6-5, 231-pound Evans making a play and opening up a world of possibilities.
We saw him grab a short pass and turn it into something big.
We saw part of the formula, Jackson and Evans, taking turns, just how offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford would like to draw it up every Sunday.
Evans is being tracked by a lot of eyes this summer, many belonging to people who thought it was crazy to spend a first-round draft pick, much less a No. 7, on him.
Evans has something to prove. He loves that.
Saturday, he showed us something.
Evans will present a big target for McCown, though it was Mike Glennon who threw the ball to Evans for his 41-yarder, nicely done by Glennon, considering he was smashed as he let it go.
Glennon would have seen Evans take the short pass and shake off a would-be Miami tackler, rag-dog like, and head down the sideline.
Here was the Mike Evans who last season went for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore at A&M. This is a guy to make the Bucs a double threat, Jackson on one side, Evans on the other.
Nobody would have run Evans down in the SEC. Only this is the NFL.
Objects are closer than they appear in the mirror.
Yes, there are lessons to learn.
Mike Evans is out to show he can do it up here and then some.
He showed signs of it Saturday.
He took a few steps.
At least steps 1 through 3.