Evans Brings Long-Awaited Deep Presence

Not since the Vinny Testaverde days has Baltimore had a deep threat like Lee Evans.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Sunday, August 28th, 2011 at 10:32 am | Categories: Ryan Mink

As Lee Evans blazed under quarterback Joe Flacco’s lofted pass in his first game as a Raven, Head Coach John Harbaugh ran with the wide receiver along the sideline.
And when Evans hauled the pass in behind the Kansas City defense, Harbaugh immediately let out an emphatic fist pump.

It was only a preseason game, and thus a play that in the big picture meant very little. But that 43-yard reception by the Ravens’ recent addition, paired with Harbaugh’s reaction, was symbolic.
“That’s what we’ve been searching for since I’ve been here,” Harbaugh said last week in practice. “Hopefully we have that now.”

Evans has had a hot start to his Baltimore career.
After notching three receptions for 68 yards in his first outing, he made three more catches for 60 yards Thursday against the Washington Redskins, including a 35-yard touchdown in which he burned 2010 Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
It’s the kind of big plays the Ravens have been looking for beyond Harbaugh’s three-year tenure.
Ravens fans have been waiting for a deep-threat receiver in Baltimore since the days when Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander were blitzing underneath passes from Vinny Testaverde. That was back in 1996, the Ravens’ first year of existence.
That year, Alexander averaged 17.7 yards per catch and scored nine touchdowns. Jackson hauled in 76 passes for 1,201 yards (15.8 yards per catch) and notched 14 touchdowns.
Since then, Baltimore hasn’t had the same kind of vertical presence.
The team has drafted and signed extremely productive receivers, but none have averaged the yards per catch that Evans has over his career.
Derrick Mason, who was released and departed for the New York Jets this offseason, had four seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards, but averaged 12.4 yards per catch during his six years in Baltimore.
Mark Clayton was a first-round speedster who turned in a number of big plays (touchdowns of 87, 70, 65, 62 and 53 yards) and averaged 17 yards per catch in 2008. But he averaged 13.8 yards per catch over his five Ravens seasons.
Anquan Boldin is one of the top receivers in the game, but he doesn’t post the same speed threat Evans does. Baltimore added physicality with Boldin, who has a career 12.9 yards per catch average and was at 13.1 last season.
The closest may have been Qadry “The Missile” Ismail, who helped give the Ravens offense a big-play threat during their Super Bowl season in 2000.
Ismail said he noticed a lot of safeties rolling his way during those years, which opened things up for the rest of the offense and run game in particular.
“We weren’t a boring, methodical offense. I’m not ashamed to say, we were a big-play offense,” Ismail said.
“There’s nothing like sucking the life out of a team when you throw a big play on them. All of a sudden they’re afraid to bring pressure. Then the run game gets easier, your short-yardage situations are easier, everything is easier. If you have a guy on the outside that can really dictate coverage, it changes everything for defensive coordinators.”
Ismail said he’s been studying the way Evans changes games for quite some time. He was amazed that Evans was still able to put up big numbers despite playing in Buffalo’s cold weather, under multiple offensive coordinators and with a merry-go-round of quarterbacks.
Since 2004, Evans’ 15.7 career yards per catch average is tops among all NFL active receivers with at least 350 receptions.
There’s a lot to Evans’ game that makes him successful, but his success can largely be traced to one aspect that can’t be learned.
“It’s the ability to separate and get to that next gear,” Ismail said. “You’re in fourth gear and then all of a sudden you hit the turbo and you’re in fifth or sixth. That’s rarified air.”
The Ravens’ history at wide receiver is lost on Evans.
He said he doesn’t feel any expectations to fulfill any dream Baltimoreans have harbored for years.
“The only expectation I feel is to win,” Evans said. “It has a great winning tradition here. I want to help continue that and do some things I haven’t done in my career yet.”
Evans hasn’t been to the playoffs yet during his seven NFL seasons. During that time, the Buffalo Bills compiled a 45-67 record.
Evans still said it was difficult to put Buffalo in the rearview mirror, but he’s looking forward to the opportunities he’ll get in Baltimore’s new-look offense.
The Ravens lost two of their top targets from last year in Mason and tight end Todd Heap. They feel they’ve updated the offense, however, with the addition of Evans, second-round burner Torrey Smith and couple of fast pass-catching tight ends.
“You need to have quick strikes,” Harbaugh said. “It’s hard to move the ball all the way down the field, 80 yards, and be perfect without the defense coming up with a play to get you stopped.”
After Evans exited his first Ravens’ game, fans behind the team’s bench began chanting his name.
Evans, who still says his connection with Flacco is “a work in progress” despite looking like it’s in midseason form, was too modest to turn around.
Finally, after the chants went on long enough, Harbaugh grabbed Evans, turned him toward the fans and raised his arm.
“I’ve never had a coach hold my arm up like I just won a fight,” Evans said with a laugh. “That was definitely a first.”
Asked why he did that, Harbaugh said, “When you get a guy off on the right foot with the fans, it means a lot.”
Being accepted by Baltimore doesn’t seem like it will be a problem for Evans.

Tags: , , , ,