- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Injured Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans hopes to return to the lineup Sunday against NFC South rival New Orleans.

The second-year pro who’s one of Jameis Winston’s top targets has been sidelined since the middle of August with a sore right hamstring. He sat out the Buccaneers’ 42-14 season-opening loss to Tennessee, but practiced on a limited basis for the third straight day Friday and is listed as questionable to play against the Saints.

“They haven’t given an official ruling, but hopefully I’ll be out there,” Evans said.

Evans had 68 receptions for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie in 2014, when he and Vincent Jackson teamed to become the first pair of receivers to top 1,000 yards in the same season.

“I feel real good. The training staff did a real good job on my hammies. They feel better than they ever have. Hopefully, I’ll get to go this week,” Evans said.

“If it’s not broken, I think I could play,” Evans added. “That’s my mentality, but we’ll see what happens.”

Although Lovie Smith would not say whether he expects the receiver to play, the coach did note Evans “has been able to do more and more each day, which is a good thing.”

Smith repeatedly has stressed over the past month, though, that the Bucs take a cautious approach to bringing any player back from a hamstring injury.

The coach smiled when told Evans feels he’s healthy enough to play.

The receiver said the same thing last week after practicing for the first time since aggravating the injury during Tampa Bay’s second preseason game.

“He wants that, and you want them to say they’re ready to go,” Smith said. “Mike wasn’t ready to go last week. He’s closer this week.”

Evans said it was “extremely tough” to watch the opener and not be able to help the team.

Winston struggled in his NFL debut, completing less than 50 percent of his passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“I don’t know if I could (make a 28-point difference), but it was hard to watch my team,” Evans said. “I was capable of playing. Hopefully this week I will get the go-ahead.”

Jackson is pulling for Evans to return to the lineup as soon as possible. At the same time, the veteran receiver reiterated the importance of being careful with the decision.

“It’s going to help us. We all know that,” Jackson said. “We just want him to make sure he’s smart and going to be healthy for the majority of the season.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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