Lee Evans, a nine-year veteran and a two-time 1,000-yard receiver, early this week signed as a free agent with the Jaguars. Evans, 31, for much of his career has been considered one of the NFL's top deep threats, but after being traded from the Buffalo Bills to the Baltimore Ravens during training camp last August, his 2011 season was shorted by injuries. He went through the Jaguars' three-day voluntary mini-camp this week at EverBank Field, and afterward, took time to talk to jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser.
You played for new Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey during his two seasons as the Buffalo Bills' head coach, 2004 and 2005. What do you recall from that time, and what are you looking forward to about playing for him again?
I believe he's a player's coach. He has played the game before. He knows what it's like to play the game. He has insight into offense. He drafted me and he trusted me to do things, so I have a lot of respect for him and his family and the way he does things. He's a successful coach and he has done it before in the league, and he's a good guy. I think he's a very, very good coach. When we sat down and talked, he was candid about going through it the first time in Buffalo. I think he has been able to learn from that, so coming into this time he's a lot better at it (being a head coach). He knows more what to expect and I think that's a big part of it. The coaches and guys he has around him are a big part of it as well, and I think this staff is very, very good.
As a nine-year veteran, if you could go back and tell Lee Evans the rookie anything about the NFL, what would that be?
There are a lot of things, but I think of one the biggest things – and it takes time to learn to do it – is the importance of watching tape and really understanding your opponents and the defenses you're going against. Early in my career, I really just kind of went on athletic ability. As you get older, you get smarter. I would start that process earlier. It's a learned skill and you have to be with people who know how to watch film so you can learn from it.
Since you have been in the league, who has taught you the most about being a professional? Anyone you have learned from, or has it been more trial and error?
I think I've learned a lot from a lot of different guys. In Buffalo, it was a carousel of people always coming in. I learned from Eric Moulds, although I wasn't with him that long. A lot of it is learning from different coordinators and different quarterbacks. It really wasn't one guy. A lot of it has been an evolving and maturing thing.
The book on Lee Evans for years is he's a deep-ball guy. But watching you in practice this week, you run very good, crisp intermediate and short routes. More than a deep-ball guy? Too pigeon-holed as a deep threat?
I think so, but that's OK. I've obviously been known for being able to run and stretch the field. Throughout my career, I've tried to get better at intermediate routes and things like that. Part of it is getting in and out of cuts, but it's also reading the defense as well. That's certainly part of it, and getting to the point where I am now, I know it takes both. Before, you just think, "I can run," so you just do it with speed. As you get older you understand you get open by first knowing what you're seeing, then getting comfortable with what you're doing.
You see guys who can't make that adjustment. You believe you – "deep-threat" Lee Evans – can get open without necessarily having to be a burner?
When I first came into the league, Cris Carter – he didn't really know me, but he told me, "80 percent" will do it. You have to learn to run 80 percent and you'll be good. When he first said it, I didn't really understand it, but as I've gotten older, I understand what he was trying to tell me. He was saying, 'It's all about being in control and knowing when to use your speed and when you don't really have to.' It's about learning how to come in and out of cuts. That's what he was trying to get at.* *That's one of the beauties of this offense. You have an opportunity to get matched anywhere, and to create matchups to put you in position to win. That's a comfort level of being in this offense – that you have the ability to move. I've been in offenses where I've just been stationary and it has been easy for a defense to target. When you move around a little bit, it makes it easy to have a good matchup.
Are people in general too quick to write off a 31-year old receiver? Are people too quick to assume that that means a guy is on the decline?
Definitely. The fact of the matter over the last two years, having injuries and not really having any statistics, that really sums it up for people. That's really what it is. You look at 33-, 34-year-old receivers around the league. There are a bunch of them. Santana Moss just re-signed. Reggie Wayne has been around for a while. There are plenty of guys. As you get older, it doesn't mean you are what people think. It's realty about staying healthy and taking care of yourself.
Why will it work here for you here when it didn't in Baltimore?
Health was a big part of it. Being able to stay healthy is No. 1. But No. 2 was not being healthy and trying to come back at the time I came back – the offense had progressed a lot more than where I was. We worked like crazy to try to get there, and it just didn't work out. In the playoffs, I was getting back to a level where there was a lot more comfort with the quarterback. When I first came back, they tried to protect me a little bit and keep it simple, then when Anquan Boldin went down for a while I was thrown in there and things were just off. As we got to the last couple of games, there was more of a trust factor built up. What's good about being here is I'll get an off-season. Last year, it wasn't just that there was no off-season. I came in in the middle of training camp, so I was trying to catch up from Day One. Being here, and being able to get an off-season in, I'm going to be able to establish a much better comfort level with the quarterbacks and establish a much better foundation going into the season.