Big 10

Learning curve over, Chris Evans ready to lead Michigan at running back

August 13, 2017

ANN ARBOR — Jim Harbaugh likes to say the biggest jump a college football player can make is the transition from their freshman to sophomore season.

And Chris Evans, Michigan’s top returning rusher, is already well on his way.

The 5-foot-11 running back from Indianapolis arrived on campus last summer a four-star recruit unsure of his future. He had the skill set, sure, but was largely flying under the radar.

Fast forward a year, and things in preseason camp are vastly different.

“I feel a little more in the mix,” Evans said. “Last year, I didn’t really know if I was going to be playing, or doing this or doing that. I feel really more intact with the team this year.”

Hopefully so, because Evans is tasked with leading a Michigan backfield in 2017 that returns three of its top four rushers from a season ago.

Senior Ty Isaac and junior Karan Higdon return to help Evans, who rushed for 614 yards and four touchdowns in a break-through 2016. All together, the trio combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns.

And that was with Evans working on a limited understanding of the playbook. He caught six passes for 87 yards.

“I didn’t really know the protections,” Evans said. “So I was only in on free releases or all-running plays. Last year when I was in, I was doing one job.”

It’s a very different story a year later. While Evans made it a point to put on weight to help make him more of an every-down running back (he started camp at 211 pounds), he spent a bulk of the summer watching film.

Then he called his teammates.

“I was calling running-back meetings like, ‘Hey, we got to get this,’ doing walkthroughs for other guys who needed it,” Evans said.

“Guys like Kareem (Walker), I’m real proud of him because he’s like, ‘Yo bro, we got to go watch film.’ Do this and do that.”

Along with that comes a better understanding of the run-pass dynamic at fullback. Tyrone Wheatley taught running the football in a “big-back way,” while first-year Michigan running backs coach Jay Harbaugh stresses more technique.

Chop your feet. Establish ground. Beat your guy to the point.

“Just being there mentally,” Evans said. “Having the demeanor and body language to show that this is where I’m supposed to be at.

“I tell coach (Tim) Drevno, every time he dials a play I’m saying, ‘I love that play.’ Whatever play he runs, it’s going to be a good one.”

Evans has not been afraid to weigh in on the ongoing competition at quarterback, either. But he’s not picking sides.

Rather, just showing leadership.

“I always tell them both separately like, ‘Hey, you the best QB in the country.’ I text them, telling them that,” Evans said.

“But I tell them just so they can feel like they got somebody standing in the backfield that believes in me. ‘If nobody believes in (you), then I believe in you,’ that’s what I tell them.”

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