|Heath Evans, who moonlights on special teams, howls after his tackle on a return. (BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters)|
GLENDALE, Ariz. - Heath Evans is multi-dimensional for the Patriots. Evans is listed as a running back, but he is used mostly as a lead blocker and plays on special teams. Two years ago, he took on the role of lead rusher in games against Miami and New Orleans.
If Evans had his choice?
"I'd keep my same position, because this way I get to play a lot," he said Tuesday. "If I had to play another position it would be Tom Brady's, when he is on the field from 1 to 4, but not the off-field stuff. It's how smart he is on and off the field. He sees things and picks up on things and I wonder, 'How did he pick up on that?' "
Evans has not had a chance to play quarterback since he was a youngster.
"Pop Warner days, and I wasn't very good," he said. "I ran on every down."
By the time Evans was playing at Auburn, he accepted his role as a utility player. And Evans found a niche in the NFL as a special teams player in Seattle. But Evans's stature has been elevated since he joined the Patriots in 2005.
Asked if his role was thankless, Evans replied:
"It's definitely not thankless. With this team here, Bill Belichick is going to make sure everyone is well appreciated for their roles. My role varies from week to week, but I enjoy it. It's a bit of variety. Sometimes you'll see me at wide receiver and other times you'll see me at fullback and tailback and everywhere else. That's what makes it fun. It gives me a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things."
In Evans's first four seasons, with the Seahawks, he had 33 carries; he equaled that total in games against the Dolphins (17 carries for 84 yards) and the Saints (16 for 74) in 2005. Evans did not score a touchdown in his first five seasons, but as a Patriot, he caught a 1-yard scoring pass from Tom Brady last season and ran for three touchdowns this season. Evans was in on 20 percent of the offensive snaps this season, gaining most of his 121 rushing yards in games against Buffalo (10 carries for 56 yards) and Washington (a modest 5 carries for 24 yards in the 52-7 blowout). But most of Evans's contributions have been key blocks and other intangibles.
He also contributes to the morale in the Patriots' locker room. He admits to being the culprit when shoelaces are missing from cleats or a helmet is hidden. Before the Patriots' season-opening 38-14 win over the New York Jets, Kevin Faulk's jersey required adjusting, Evans helping to pull it into shape. Now, Faulk makes Evans repeat the adjustment before every game; Evans complies, though the routine irritates him.
"I don't have any superstitions," Evans said. "I do the opposite of routine."
Evans did not require much prompting to describe his arrival with the Patriots in religious allegorical terms.
"It's the biggest priority in my life," Evans said of his religion. "I think God needs men who are going to stand up for their beliefs and stand up for their biblical beliefs. For me, my career's been up and down. In '05, I got cut from the Dolphins and Bill Belichick, for some reason, sees something in me, picks me up, and my career's been resurrected."
Now, the Patriots are on the verge of completing an unbeaten season.
"The pursuit of perfection, as everyone has labeled it, has had its challenges, but it's been a heck of a ride," Evans said. "You look at the opportunity, where we're at 18-0, to do something that's never been done."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.