Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Auburn linebacker Chris Evans (59) hauls down Mississippi State running back Christian Ducre in the Bulldogs' 19-14 upset win at Auburn on Sept. 15. Evans started the year as a second-stringer but is now a productive starter after injuries have taken a bite out of the Tigers' linebacking corps.
In the middle
Auburn LB producing in starting role
By Ross Dellenger
AUBURN — For the first time in his Auburn career, Chris Evans has a backup instead of being the backup.
"That's crazy," said Evans, a junior from Prichard who spent the past two years as a reserve.
The Tigers' starting middle linebacker four of the past five games, Evans replaced injured starter Tray Blackmon in the second week of the season.
Since then, he has shined. And now, he has his own backup.
Auburn coaches decided last week to pull the redshirt from freshman Josh Bynes, giving him the duty of backing up Evans and continuing a shuffle at linebacker.
The linebacking squad, once stacked with depth and talent, has been decimated by injuries. Dating back to mid-August, Auburn has lost three linebackers, one completely.
Second-stringer Steve Gandy quit the team after suffering the last of four concussions during preseason drills. Starters Blackmon and Merrill Johnson were sidelined early this season.
"We are searching for the one game when we don't have injuries," coach Tommy Tuberville said.
But those injuries have led to the emergence of the 6-foot, 220-pound Evans, who had two tackles last season. He leads the team with 35 tackles and is well on the way to keeping a starting spot, even when Blackmon returns.
"He's going to play," defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. "He deserves to play."
Evans is likely to move to weakside linebacker when Blackmon overcomes a lingering ankle injury he suffered in the season opener. Blackmon started against Florida and played 26 snaps before the injury flared up again.
A few months ago, Evans was wondering if he would play at all this season. His career at Auburn had been spiraling downward.
As a freshman, he saw playing time in nine games and registered 13 tackles, but last season he played in just seven games.
“Last year, I didn’t know what the future held for me,” he said.
But when Blackmon sprained his ankle, Evans made the most of his playing time.
“I just came out this year and tried to give it everything I had,” he said. “So far, it’s working out good for me.”
Evans was named the defensive player of the week by coaches for his six-tackle performance in Auburn’s win over Vanderbilt. He has been, by far, the most productive linebacker.
“In the past we’ve had linebackers unblocked, and we wouldn’t make plays. Well, Chris made the plays,” linebackers coach James Willis said. “Even when he had a blocker on him, he always shed the block and made plays.”
Just a two-star prospect when he came out of Blount High School, Evans was not highly recruited. In fact, here is a list of schools other than Auburn that showed interest: Alabama State and The Citadel.
It’s ironic. Evans’ new backup, Bynes, garnered much attention out of high school. A four-star prospect, Bynes had offers from the likes of Notre Dame, South Carolina, UCLA and Iowa.
But it’s Bynes who now calls Evans a “god” among linebackers.
“Coming from him, man, that’s unbelievable,” a humble Evans said. “He came out of high school highly ranked. I really wasn’t ranked — I wasn’t ranked at all coming out of high school. So coming from him, him saying something like that means a lot.”
Auburn at Arkansas
Tracking Chris Evans
Year Games/Games played Tackles Interceptions
2005 12/9 13 0
2006 13/7 2 0
2007 6/6 35 1
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