Though just a freshman last year, sophomore running back Chris Evans was second on Michigan’s team in rushing yards with 614, trailing only DeVeon Smith’s 846.
With Smith now graduated, many expect Evans to be the primary ball carrier for the Wolverines in 2017. He showed glimpses of greatness last year — most notably against Florida State in the Orange Bowl when he ripped off a 30-yard touchdown run — which is why many fans think he could be in store for a special season.
“I feel a little more in the mix,” Evans explained. “Last year at this point I didn’t really know if I’d be playing. So this year I feel more intact with the team — physically, mentally, emotionally, you name it.
“Last year I didn’t really know the protections, so I was only in on free releases or running plays. Last year when I was in, I was doing one job and now it’s more of a scheme — check this, check that. I feel a lot more comfortable in the backfield now.
“I’ve gained extra weight — I weigh 211 now — and can be more of an every-down back. I’m also better mentally, just having the demeanor and body language and knowing where I’m supposed to be.”
Last year, Tyrone Wheatley coached the team’s running backs, but when he departed for the NFL after the season, Jay Harbaugh took over the position. Evans briefly touched on both men.
“I’ve been relying on my technique,” the sophomore said. “Coach Wheatley always showed us the ‘big back way,’ while Coach Jay always tells us to chop our feet and get under our guy and beat him to the point.”
Michigan’s offense is one of the few nowadays that features multiple fullbacks, which creates another luxury for the running backs running behind them.
“[Fifth-year senior] Khalid [Hill] and [fifth-year senior Henry] Poggi are a great duo,” Evans said. “One can catch and be a threat down the field as a receiver, and the other is more suited for between the tackles and blocking linebackers.”
Jim Harbaugh noted on Friday night that redshirt junior Wilton Speight and fifth-year senior John O’Korn have separated themselves a bit in the quarterback race, and Evans briefly discussed both signal-callers.
“I always tell them both separately you’re the best quarterback in the country,” he said with a laugh. “I always text them that, just so they know they have somebody in the backfield who believes in them. I always tell them if nobody else believes in them, I will. They both find out, but they know I want the best for them.”
Finally, Evans noted that several freshmen are already impressing him in camp, specifically three linebackers and two receivers.
“[Freshman linebacker Josh] Ross lays the wood,” Evans said. “And [freshman linebacker Jordan] Anthony and [freshman linebacker Drew] Singleton too. I don’t even want to imagine what they were doing to kids in high school, considering the way they hit now — they’re going to make you feel it.
“At Signing of the Stars [in February], we knew they were coming in ready to go. [Freshman receiver Donovan] Peoples-Jones, [freshman receiver] Tarik [Black] and all of them came in with the energy and demeanor that they’re ready to go. Coach Harbaugh always says the train is taking off this weekend, and I told them that once it takes off it’s all business, so get your seat belt on and buckle up.”
By the sounds of it, they’ve all strapped in and are ready to go.