FOXBOROUGH — For Patriots coach Bill Belichick, instances of frivolity are few and far between.
Planning for Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans is such a difficult task that even the “Hoodied One” was able to provide an ounce of levity Tuesday while discussing how to contain the Buccaneers 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound wide receiver.
“We’d have to put [defensive end Deatrich] Wise out there to match up with him physically,” Belichick deadpanned. “He’s a big guy. We don’t have any defensive backs as big as him. [There] probably isn’t one in the league.”
Evans, averaging 75.7 receiving yards per game over the Bucs’ 2-1 start, is one of many dynamic skill position players on a team designed to get the most out of its offensive talent. The emergence of rookie tight end O.J. Howard, a standout at Alabama, and the intimidating red-zone presence of tight end Cameron Brate provides Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter with the ability to operate in multiple tight end sets, a strategy New England employed in past iterations to ample success.
It doesn’t stop there. Doug Martin will return to the backfield when Tampa plays host to New England on Thursday night, fresh off serving last season’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy. With running back Jacquizz Rodgers already in tow, quarterback Jameis Winston has a plethora of targets to play with, including speedy wideout DeSean Jackson, an offseason acquisition.
Said Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon on how anxiety-inducing the Bucs’ offense can be, “It’s a lot of stress. They have playmakers all over the field, from the quarterback to the running backs, tight ends, receivers. They have big-play guys everywhere, so you have to be aware of where everybody’s at, know what the job is on each and every play, and execute at a high level.”
Tampa ranks third in the NFL in passing yards per game (277.7) mark trailing only New England and Arizona. Meanwhile the Patriots have ceded more passing yards per game (324) than any other franchise through four weeks, their beleaguered secondary the topic of much conversation after Sunday’s 33-30 loss to Carolina.
Of course, no target looms larger than Evans. Asked if Tampa’s 2014 first-round pick operates more like a tight end because of his size, Harmon laughed.
“Nah,” he retorted. ““Mike Evans plays like Mike Evans. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s physical, he catches literally everything that comes his way. He can catch with one hand, two hands. He’s one of the top receivers in this league.
“The way he moves, and to be that big is really, really impressive. He’s just a matchup nightmare for any and everybody.”
Guy reaches out
Sunday’s tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas sent shockwaves throughout the country but hit particularly close to home for Patriots defensive end Lawrence Guy, a Las Vegas native who has family in the area.
“It hurts your heart to see something like that happen, in your city or any city,” Guy said. “It’s something you have to deal with and all you can do is just say, ‘Hey, you need help? Let me know,’ and just give a helping hand and an opening ear to anybody who needs to talk.”
Though none of Guy’s family members were harmed in the attack, the initial moments of uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of the shooting were chilling, even from thousands of miles away.
“I found out as it was happening, got the bulletin to my phone around 2 in the morning,” he recalled. “From there I just looked up at it and then went on Facebook, saw everybody writing about the event and just [reached] out to my family members to see if everyone was OK.
“My family’s right down there, downtown. The first thing I did was reach out to them. Once we realized everybody was safe, just keep updates about what happened and who was there, whose family was involved.”
Guy, who pays homage to his hometown with a sleeve of tattoos on his right arm, has been encouraged by the city’s response to the tragedy.
“The city’s pulling together really well with the blood banks and everything,” he said. “I feel like all we can do right now is pray and support and reach out to anybody that’s there to see if anybody can help.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was in New York to participate in a talk between the NFL and the NFL Players Association regarding social issues surrounding the league. President Trump’s comments regarding unsigned quarterback Colin Kaepernick last month sparked a bevy of backlash, prompting many players to kneel for the national anthem in an act of solidarity with their fellow teammates.
“The NFL and NFLPA met today to discuss the important issue of social activism by NFL players,” read a joint statement released by the parties.
“Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith, Eric Winston, Robert Kraft, John Mara, Art Rooney, and other player leaders engaged in a productive conversation. We are all committed to an ongoing dialogue.”
Defensive back Eric Rowe (groin) was New England’s only injury-related non-participant in the walkthrough practice . . . Offensive lineman Nate Solder missed practice due to non-injury-related reasons . . . Elandon Roberts, Rex Burkhead, Marcus Cannon, Stephon Gilmore, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon King, and Matthew Slater were all listed as limited participants.
Owen Pence can be reached at email@example.com.