The overwhelming opinion throughout the years about Buffalo Bills wide receiver Lee Evans has gone something like this:
"Man, if only Lee Evans had a real quarterback!"
It's true up to last season. Ever since he established himself as a viable option in his rookie campaign (2004), the remaining years have been plagued by one mediocre quarterback to the next. Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards and even Brian Brohm for a game or two.
Evans had his most productive season when Losman had been connecting with Evans on fly routes throughout 2006. But other than that, it's been mostly quietly productive seasons without the big numbers to prove it.
This past season, however, the Bills stumbled upon a quarterback that kept the team in games, who was dispersing the football at will, and got the team to believe in themselves as a viable offense. That man is obviously Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the bearded gunslinger distributed the ball to everyone except the team's perceived number one option.
Besides a performance against Baltimore that yielded six receptions, 105 yards and three touchdowns, Evans was quiet mostly throughout 2010. In 13 games, the wideout had only 37 catches for 578 yards and four touchdowns.
It almost goes without saying, on a passing offense that was clicking, those are not your average numbers for a team's top wide receiver.
And for the first time that I can remember, head coach Chan Gailey publicly commented on what they'd like to see Evans improve upon following a training camp practice.
"We’ve got to get him to become a better underneath receiver," Gailey opined. "We got to give him things that he can do, let him work on those things that make him better as a short receiver. We know he’s got the deep threat, we know he’s always had that and we got to help him get better in the intermediate and short areas."
The seven-year pro understands why it is his head coach and play caller would say that, and hopes to work out the kinks.
"Continue to learn the concepts of the routes. Just continue to work. I think it's all just a matter of getting in the right feel, being accountable to the quarterback, and when you get an opportunity, make a play." Evans continued, "Nothing I haven't heard. It's just about going out and executing."
But there is still a lot of game left in the 30-year old Evans. His quarterback believes that they'll be able to better utilize the wideout and highlight his skill-set, much like Gailey does with all his offensive weapons.
"I think the emergence of Stevie [Johnson] and a healthy Roscoe [Parrish] for 16 games will really help. We need to find ways to get him more involved with the offense. Sometimes when they’re double-teaming you just have to throw elsewhere and that’s what happened at the beginning of the year," said Fitzpatrick. "But Lee is going to be our playmaker. Lee is the guy that’s going to make the plays down the field. We just have to keep throwing him the ball in practice, keep working on him and hit the big ones in the game with him."
After Thursday morning's walk-thru session, I asked Evans flat out if 2010 was a personal disappointment.
"Well I mean statistically," said Evans. "But overall it was a disappointment for everything. We were a 4-12 football team, so there's nothing really to be happy about. You can look at a number of different things but you know at the end of the day, we got off to a rough start. We finished a little bit better, but we've got to pick up where we left off last year and hopefully get off to a better start and ride that on to some better things in the end."
There's no doubt that Evans and the rest of the team will be looking for a bounce-back season in several different ways. As they say, it's up to them to put in the work, execute, and become not just better individual players, but a better team as a whole.