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Lovie Smith not ruling Mike Evans out for opener

Mike Evans (hamstring) has been unable to practice thus far this week. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

TAMPA, Fla. – Although Mike Evans didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith isn’t ready to rule the wide receiver out of Sunday’s season opener against the Tennessee Titans.

Evans has been sidelined by a hamstring injury, but Smith left the door open for him to play even if he misses practice again Friday.

“As a general rule, you would like for guys to practice all three days,’’ Smith said Thursday. “If they can’t practice a day, there’s some question mark. But if we have a good football player that doesn’t practice all week and he gets up Sunday morning and says, 'Hey, Lovie, I’m feeling good' and we have a history with him, he’s going to play.’’

Evans is crucial to Tampa Bay’s game plan. He had more than 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie last season and seems to have developed a strong chemistry with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.

If Evans can’t play, the Bucs likely would start Louis Murphy and use either Russell Shepard or Adam Humphries as the third receiver.

“We can’t completely change our game plan like that,’’ Smith said. “Our game plan is based a lot on Mike. Of course, if Mike is able to go we’ll play to his strengths. But we can’t run an entirely different offense if Mike can’t go.’’

As much as the Bucs would like Evans to play in the opener, Smith said he’s not going to jeopardize his long-term health.

“If there’s a question on whether we think a player isn’t ready or he hasn’t be cleared by our training staff, it’s not even part of the conversation,’’ Smith said. “A guy doesn’t go there until he feels like he’s ready to go. Sometimes you can be released from the training room and from a medical view and you just don’t feel like you’re ready to go, we won’t have you go.’’