Michigan running back Chris Evans discusses the importance of technique. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News


Ann Arbor — Michigan sophomore running back Chris Evans is generous with his compliments and gracious with his thanks.

No one is excluded.

He is especially appreciative of his offensive line.

“I love running behind them,” Evans said recently after practice. “I tell them I appreciate them every day. I tell coach (Tim) Drevno, every time he dials a play, ‘I love that play,’ just to let him know whatever play he runs, it’s going to be a good one.”

Evans also feels the need to give the quarterbacks – Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh last week said Wilton Speight and John O’Korn have separated themselves in the quarterback competition – some extra support.

“I always tell them both separately, ‘Hey, you’re the best quarterback in the country. Just go with that every day.’ I text them, tell them that,” Evans said. “I tell them just so they can feel like, ‘I got somebody in the backfield with me who believes in me.’ If nobody believes in (them), I believe in them. That’s what I tell them.”

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It was pointed out that by making public that he tells each quarterback the same supportive comments, they would find out.

“I’m not worried about that all,” Evans said with a quick smile. “Just the type of relationship we have. If they both find out, they know I want the best for them.”

For Evans, now it’s about finding the best for himself and improving on a productive freshman season. He was the team’s second-leading rusher last year with 614 yards on 88 carries and he scored four touchdowns. He averaged a team-best seven yards a carry and also caught six passes for 87 yards.

The 5-foot-11 back is 211 pounds, about 11 pounds heavier than he was last season

He said changing his body and adding strength are his biggest offseason highlights.

“Gaining extra weight and being more of an every-down back and also just being there mentally,” Evans said when asked his biggest improvements.

But his confidence also has changed. He said he now has “the demeanor and body language” that show “this is where I’m supposed to be.”

And that’s partly because he played so much as a freshman and has a better understanding of the offense. His position coached changed before spring practice from Tyrone Wheatley to Jay Harbaugh, and he said he hasn’t missed a beat.

Last week, Jim Harbaugh praised Evans, Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac and said Kareem Walker has been working hard and improving.

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

He also flexed some leadership muscles in the offseason and called running back meetings to encourage film watching, and they would have walkthroughs to work on plays.

And he has worked diligently on pass protection by adding weight and honing technique.

“Last year I didn’t really know the protections,” Evans said. “I was only in on free releases or running plays, so last year I was in, I was doing one job. Now it’s more of a scan, check this, check that, get out and do that. I feel a lot more comfortable in the backfield.”