Evans, Jackson are Bucs’ towers of strength

The critics argued before and even after the fact that there was no need for the Buccaneers to draft a receiver like Mike Evans, because they already had one like him in Vincent Jackson.

But the fact the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Jackson already was wearing pewter and red is precisely why the Bucs opted to spend the seventh overall pick in the draft last May on the 6-5, 231-pound Evans.

Their objective all along was to build an offense much like the one quarterback Josh McCown excelled in at Chicago last year, and that meant having not one, but two big, tall receiving targets.

Little has gone the way the Bucs hoped it would since, but their decision to double down on towering outside receiving threats so far has proved to be a winning roll of the dice.

As Tampa Bay (1-8) heads into today's game against Washington (3-6) at FedExField, the tandem Bucs general manager Jason Licht dubbed the “twin towers'' has proved to be a rare tower of receiving strength.

Though they've only been together for eight of the nine games this year, Jackson and Evans have combined to catch 79 passes for 1,103 yards and seven touchdowns. In terms of yards gained, that makes them the eighth-most productive receiving duo in the NFC and the 14th in the NFL — that despite having the third-fewest receptions among the league's top 15 duos.

“They're obviously great,'' Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of the Jackson-Evans tandem. “A lot of teams have one receiver that's a big, physical guy like that. They have two, so that's different.

“And both of them are explosive guys that can make plays on the ball and do damage after the catch. They both do a great job at the high point on back-shoulder (fades) and things like that, so both are very difficult to contend with.''

Jackson, 31, has been difficult to contend with for years. In his 10th pro season, he's a three-time Pro Bowler with five 1,000-yard receiving seasons, the past two with the Bucs. And while he needs to pick up the pace, his 40 catches for 518 yards and two touchdowns has him in reach of his third straight 1,000-yard receiving season as a Buccaneer.

Evans, meanwhile, is on pace for a 1,000-yard receiving season. Despite missing one game with a groin injury, Evans has 39 receptions for 585 yards and five touchdowns. That makes him the third-most productive rookie wideout in the league behind Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina) and Sammy Watkins (Buffalo).

After catching seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown during the Bucs' 27-17 loss to Atlanta last week, Evans was up for his second straight NFL Pepsi Rookie of the Week Award.

“Our rookie class is pretty good, and it's been fun competing with those guys,'' said Evans, who gives a lot of the credit for his early success to Jackson, who has been an aid both on and off the field.

“With V-Jack out there, (defenses) can't cloud to my side because they'll leave V-Jack open,'' Evans said. “And they can't cloud to his side or they'll leave me one-on-one. So, it's been great working with him.

“We really complement each other, but he's been even more of a help off the field. He's been playing for 10 years now and he tells me all the little things he does (off the field) and I just try to follow in his footsteps.''

That's the other reason the Bucs wanted Evans. Jackson doesn't show any real signs of slowing down, but at his age he has fewer years ahead of him in this game than he has behind him. When the time comes for Jackson to step away, or to take a step back as their top receiving target, the Bucs hope Evans will step up and take his place.

Based on what he's seen of the Texas A&M product this year, Jackson has no reason to believe Evans won't eventually meet the Bucs' expectations.

“Mike continues to work hard each and every week, and if he just continues to work at his craft and be that guy that's willing to take the coaching, the sky's the limit for him,'' Jackson said.

With Evans and Jackson in the lineup, the Bucs believe the sky's the limit for their offense.

“I've said it all year — those two guys present some obstacles and some problems with just their ability to play,” said Bucs acting offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo. “They're on opposite sides of the field a lot, which is tough for defenses. And sometimes we put them together, which is another way to add something to the defense as far as scheme goes.

“I think they're growing together and separately in their own individual ways. And we're trying to continue to find ways to maximize their potential as a unit.''

If their production the past two games is any indication, the Bucs might already have found the best way to maximize the combined talents of Jackson and Evans.

Two of Jackson's three most productive games came the past two weeks, with six catches for 86 yards at Cleveland and eight catches for 75 yards against Atlanta.

Evans, meanwhile, had his two best games of the year the past two weeks, catching seven passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns at Cleveland and seven more for 125 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta.

“That was the good thing about that game,'' Bucs quarterback Josh McCown said, referring to Tampa Bay's loss to Atlanta. “When you get those two guys involved in the game early like we did, it stresses out the guys (on defense) because it really creates a lot of matchup problems for a defense.''

Those matchup problems for opposing defenses are nothing short of matchup dreams for the Bucs, who are just now starting to get the results they envisioned when they drafted Evans as a complement to Jackson.

“We're very pleased with what both those receivers have done lately,'' Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “They're really feeling it right now and wanting the ball more and, of course, we're going to keep feeding it to them. That's our plan.''

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Neil S. Schwartz

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Jonathan Feinsod

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