OWINGS MILLS – Lee Evans darted upfield, breaking free of the secondary up the sideline and leapt into the air to haul in a Joe Flacco spiral.
Neatness counts, so the Baltimore Ravens’ newly-acquired wide receiver casually tapped both feet in bounds to finish off his work just like a real game..
It was a glimpse of what Evans could provide to the Ravens’ offense after being added via a trade from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. Throughout Evans’ first practice with his new teammates, he seemed to pick things up quickly in the huddle and in the classroom.
“He looked good out there, he definitely has an extra gear to him," Flacco said. “That’s going to be a big plus for us, to be able to kind of stretch the field vertically a little bit and challenge some teams. So, I’m excited about it. Yeah, he can run, and he can run routes well, too.”
Evans immediately took his place as a starter opposite former Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin, replacing rookie Torrey Smith.
Wearing Derrick Mason’s old No. 85 jersey, which might not be permanent since he wore No. 83 in Buffalo and could bargain with tight end Ed Dickson for the number, Evans connected with Flacco for several receptions.
Evans has embraced the fresh start after playing for a perennial loser in Buffalo.
“I was very excited to come here and be a part of something special,” Evans said. “Obviously, this has been a very historic franchise, a winning organization, and I just want to come in and do my part and do anything I can do to help them win.”
Besides his athleticism and speed, where Evans impressed Ravens coach John Harbaugh was with his intellect.
He rapidly assimilated the playbook.
“He was quick, fast, quick and he made some plays,” Harbaugh said. “He and Joe and Anquan were all talking together getting routes right, but he didn’t miss a beat. He acted like he knew exactly what we were doing and he had only been in the meetings for about 10 minutes.
“It’s not like he knew any of the plays, it was just kind of backyard communication. So, that’s a credit to him. It’s also a credit to the guys who were telling him what to do, so that’s a positive. He’s a deep threat every play, plus he’s quick. He can run routes well. He’s got good hands. He’s a good receiver.”
And Evans, despite missing three games with an ankle injury, remains a fast receiver.
The 5-foot-11, 197-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL scouting combine heading into the 2004 NFL draft where the Bills selected him with the 13th overall pick of the first round.
“Obviously, one of my biggest attributes is speed, so being able to get down the field and stretch the defense,” Evans said. “Q is as dynamic as they come, so open some things up for him and let him control it.”
In seven NFL seasons with the Bills, the former Wisconsin star caught 377 passes for 5,934 yards and 43 touchdowns. That includes a career-high 83 receptions for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns five seasons ago.
What his Buffalo experienced never included was a journey to the playoffs whereas the Ravens have made it to the playoffs and won at least one game in the postseason in each of the past three seasons.
“Absolutely, I have been in the league for eight years now and I haven’t been there yet,” Evans said. “Coming to a franchise like this, I was excited about it and as fired up as I could be. I just want to do anything I can to do my part to help them get there.”
One of the issues with the Bills was a constant churn of offensive coordinators, quarterbacks and philosophies.
With the Ravens, Evans joins a team that has an established quarterback in Flacco and the same coordinator in Cam Cameron for the fourth year.
“You hit it right on the head, it has been a whirlwind in Buffalo with different coordinators and quarterbacks,” Evans said. “To come into a stable situation, it builds confidence in me that I can just continue to get better every day.”
Evans arrives with something to prove.
He’s coming off a career-worst season where he caught just 37 passes for 578 yards and four touchdowns.
He caught six passes for 105 yards and three touchdowns last season, though, against the Ravens in a Baltimore overtime win. He torched former Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington, costing him his starting job.
“I remember the success he had as a bad memory,” Harbaugh said. “We couldn’t cover him, obviously. It was one of those games where he really shined and he really matched up well against our guys.”
Ranked third in Bills franchise history for receiving yards, fourth in catches and fifth in touchdowns, Evans should complement Boldin well.
He’ll also operate as an extra mentor to rookie wide receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss.
“He seems like a real humble dude and he definitely brings another dimension to the offense,” said Smith, the Ravens’ second-round draft pick from the University of Maryland. “Me and him on the outside should bring a lot of speed.I knew the possibility of us getting a veteran receiver, which will definitely take the pressure off myself.
“I was kind of excited about it. I’m embracing learning from someone else. At the same time, I still have a big role as a starter, so I’ve just got to play my part.”
Added Doss: “It’s great having another veteran guy here to learn from. He’s here to make plays and I’m sure we can use him a lot.”
According to Harbaugh, the Ravens won’t shift Smith’s position because of Evans’ presence.
The Ravens plan to use Smith strictly at split end whereas Evans will operate outside and in the slot.
“He’s not really moving to a new position,” Harbaugh said. “Torrey has to learn both sides anyway. I think Torrey just continues to progress and move forward.”
Evans wasn’t necessarily surprised to be traded, not with the emergence of Steve Johnson as the Bills’ top wide receiver.
He learned of the trade during his return to Buffalo from Rochester where the Bills hold training camp, quickly boarding an airplane and getting to Baltimore on Friday night.
Gradually seeing his role reduced in Buffalo, Evans doesn’t mind the change of scenery.
“On their part, I think they were trying to get me to a good organization and I thank them for that,” Evans said. “It didn’t surprise me by the way things were going and the direction they wanted to go. It really didn’t surprise me. You just have to roll with it. This is a new situation for me. I am happy to be here.”