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Evans excels at role-playing

Patriots fullback delivers on offense, special teams

The value of Heath Evans's place on the Patriots' roster had just come to life on national television.

There was some hard-nosed lead blocking. Add in two receptions, one of which went for a touchdown. There were seven carries, the most dynamic a 43-yarder that set up his 2-yard rushing touchdown. And, of course, there were his special teams contributions.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that -- coupled with a 24-7 exhibition victory over the Panthers last Friday night.

Just the way Evans likes it.

"With the stable of backs we have, it's enjoyable to do what they ask me to do here, and it can be totally different from week to week," the 6-foot, 250-pound Evans said. "I know there are guys out there who are better blockers, better runners, and better special teams players, but I just want to pride myself on being a guy that Coach [Bill] Belichick can come to for a number of different things and he'll know the job is going to get done."

Almost an hour after Friday night's game, Evans was one of the last players to leave the locker room. He touched on how much he enjoys playing football, and how his NFL career was revived when the Patriots signed him in the middle of the 2005 season.

Evans, 28, had been devastated when the Dolphins cut him after six games, and when the Patriots brought him aboard seven days later, few could have predicted it would be such a fruitful partnership. The Patriots were banged up at running back at the time and needed reinforcements. Evans was simply looking for a job.

Fast-forward to the present day and Evans, then a temporary fill-in, is now in his third season with the club, having signed a two-year contract with a $250,000 signing bonus this offseason.

"It seemed at the beginning it was meant for harm, but in the end the good Lord was faithful to my family and me," said Evans, who is devoutly religious and will be honored by Athletes in Action in November with an annual award that goes to a Boston athlete who exemplifies outstanding character.

"I loved to be in South Florida, but now it's to the point where you could put Foxborough in India and this is where I'd want to be. I'm playing a position I absolutely love and personality-wise I feel like I fit here, in a team atmosphere full of a bunch of tough, unselfish guys. It's kind of like a match made in heaven."

Evans specifically likes the chemistry among the running backs, with Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk at the top of the depth chart. In many ways, he sees Maroney's approach and it reminds him of the exuberance Deion Branch showed in the brief time they were teammates.

"Laurence is just out there playing football, energetic as can be, very talkative and emotional, and it's fun to see that on the sideline," said Evans, entering his seventh NFL season. "As you grow up in this league, you kind of calm down a bit, and I remember my first couple of years being so excited on any given play, any given game. Sammy, Kevin, and I, we've all been around the block, so it's a little different. All of our personalities are all totally different, our playing styles are all totally different, but it makes for a good mixture."

As for Evans's contributions, he looked sharp Friday night, specifically on his 43-yard run. While he enjoys carrying the ball, he totaled only 27 rushes last year, so it's not always a natural feeling to take the handoff from the quarterback.

"At fullback, the game slows down for me mentally, which makes it easier to make blocks and be consistent, but when I have the ball in my hands things happen much faster," Evans said.

On the 43-yard jaunt, Evans took the ball left, adjusted to some defensive penetration, cut back to the right, and pressed through the initial hole before barreling over linebacker Jon Beason. He picked up some nice blocks downfield before cornerback Richard Marshall tracked him down.

Evans's 2-yard touchdown run four plays later might have been more impressive, because the initial snap was bobbled by quarterback Matt Cassel, which halted the momentum of the play. But Cassel made a nice recovery, as did Evans, who restarted and bulldozed his way over the goal line.

For Evans, the goal now is similar to his primary objective as a lead blocker: To keep things moving forward.

"In the big picture we still have a long way to go," he said. "Bill says it and we see it and firmly believe it; it's not just lip service. When we think of where we want to be as a running back group, we know there is a lot more work to be done."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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