Patrick Ochs

Move over New Orleans Saints — Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Coast’s new favorite team

Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Justin Evans (21) participates in drills during rookie minicamp Friday at the team's practice facility in Tampa, Florida. Evans was a standout at Stone High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before transferring to Texas A&M.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Justin Evans (21) participates in drills during rookie minicamp Friday at the team's practice facility in Tampa, Florida. Evans was a standout at Stone High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before transferring to Texas A&M. AP

For obvious reasons the New Orleans Saints have had a stranglehold on the Coast’s NFL fandom for decades. That’s about to change.

Don’t be surprised if you start to see an influx of Tampa Bay Buccaneers jerseys in South Mississippi.

OK. OK. The Saints aren’t about to get knocked off — heck, the Coast has it’s own Saints “super fan” after all! — but, don’t be surprised to see an uptick in Buccaneers merchandise sitting next to you at your favorite casino or watering hole.

Why? Well ...

The Buccaneers selected Stone High’s Justin Evans in the second round of last month’s NFL draft. Once the draft concluded, the Bucs scooped up Long Beach’s own Richie Brown as a priority free agent. They join Mississippi college products Demar Dotson (Southern Miss) and Channing Ward (Ole Miss) on Tampa Bay’s roster.

Evans and Brown wasted zero time impressing at the Buccaneers’ recent rookie mini-camp, which is designed to get the new additions acclimated to their new team, and could land roles as rookies with Tampa Bay.

“He brings range,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter told Buccaneers.com of Evans after Saturday’s practice. “He moves like a corner. We’re just in shorts and helmets but he shows up quick at the line of scrimmage on his run fits. He’s going to have to be a little more vocal — we need our safeties to communicate more — but his athleticism and his range definitely, in a passing-like camp, are going to show up.”

Evans, who is the highest draft pick to ever come through Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, told Buccaneers.com’s Casey Phillips he had a hunch Tampa Bay might select him 50th overall. He was projected to go anywhere between the late first and fourth rounds.

“They definitely do think highly of me,” he said. “ I talked to the coaches a lot before the draft and they were definitely high on me. I’m glad they got me here, I’m glad to be here, and I’m glad to be a Buc.”

Asked to breakdown his abilities, Evans provided a glowing scouting report for Buccaneers fans who may be unfamiliar with his resume.

“If you look at the film, you see every aspect of the safety (position), you see the tackling, you see ball skills, you see instincts, you see play making abilities,” Evans said. “Every aspect of the game you see it. I really think that’s why they think so high of me.”

Evans worked mostly at free safety with the Buccaneers, but ultimately he doesn’t care where he plays as long as he sees the field.

“I’ll play free, strong, nickel, whatever,” he said.

MGCCC shoutout

Asked if there’s anyone he’s leaned on for advice in his early days as a professional athlete, Evans gave MGCCC a shoutout.

“I have close friends, my parents and former coaches at A&M and then one at my junior college,” he said. “They definitely help me out a lot.”

Asked in a follow-up question about the best piece of advice he ever received, he recalled a conversation with MGCCC secondary/special teams coach Stevon Moore.

“Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do,” he said.

While at Gulf Coast, Evans recorded 86 tackles, 13 passes defended and six interceptions. He the proceeded to compile an All-SEC resume in College Station, Texas, and finished with 165 tackles, 16 passes defended and five interceptions.

 

Being opportunistic

While Brown went undrafted, one plus to not being selected in the NFL Draft’s seven rounds is the ability to pick the best possible fit. Brown believes he did that with Tampa Bay. A year ago, six different undrafted rookies saw the field for the Bucs during the regular season. Koetter hinted Saturday that the trend could continue in 2017.

“Well, there’s opportunity everywhere,” Koetter told the media. “If a guy’s good enough, he’s good enough and that’s the beauty of it. From a numbers standpoint, I would think linebacker is one. Linebacker and corner are maybe two positions that we’re not as deep at as some others.”

Brown, who was one of three undrafted linebackers signed by Tampa Bay, flashed his hands at the team’s mini-camp, making a highlight reel-worthy grab on a batted ball over the middle.

The play might remind Bulldog fans of Brown’s collegiate career at Mississippi State, where he totaled 299 total tackles with 12 passes defended and five interceptions.

More TV time

Fans may get a special behind-the-scenes look at Evans and Brown this season as the Buccaneers will be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” documentary series. The series will premier Aug. 8.

The Buccaneers will hold Organized Team Activities, where the rookies are joined by veterans, later this month.

Should Evans and Brown both stick with Tampa Bay — as a second round pick, Evans is all but guaranteed a roster spot, whereas Brown has work to do as an undrafted free agent — Coast fans will get a chance to wear their new jerseys to the Superdome Nov. 5 when the Saints host the Buccaneers for a noon kickoff.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

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