It takes a lot for CJ Johnson to be impressed. The Philadelphia native has dealt with his share of injuries, and change during his Ole Miss career. He’s seen a lot, more than most players do, as he gets ready to play his fifth year in Oxford.
So when Johnson praises a teammate for their work ethic, and overall ability, it should be noted. He’s seen a lot of good, and he’s seen a lot of not so good. And Evan Engram, the Rebels’ junior tight end, is all good in Johnson’s book.
“He does so much. He does everything well,” Johnson said. “What makes Evan stand out is his route running. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how well he runs routes. He’s really hard to touch, especially when you’re in a trailing position.”
When Engram first arrived at Ole Miss, he looked like a tall wide receiver. He was lanky, and not nearly as muscular as he has become. Engram, who is from Powder Springs, Georgia, couldn’t block very well because he only weighed about 215 pounds.
“But you knew he would be a good receiver and you just didn’t know if he would develop more as a receiver or a tight end,” Johnson said. “He’s really worked hard and I think that’s the thing Evan doesn’t get enough credit for now, his blocking. He’s a great guy, blue collar all the way. He comes to work every single day. There isn’t a day where I haven’t seen Evan work. There are days where I’m tired and he’s always ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’”
Strength coach Paul Jackson praised Engram’s great work ethic in the weight room. He has done that the past two years because Engram is as consistent as he is relentless at getting better.
Engram, who was named to the first team All-SEC preseason list, has only gotten better during his playing days. He burst on to the scene as a freshman in 2013 only to suffer an injury that almost certainly cost him a chance to make the All-Freshman team chosen by the media. In 2014, he led all tight ends in the SEC with 38 catches for 662 yards, good for a 17.4 yards per catch average. Even bigger things are expected for Engram, who could end up being one of the juniors that leaves Oxford early.
“I really focused on getting stronger and just getting a little more weight on me,” said Engram, who played at 227 last year. “Right now I’m at 235. I was a lot more comfortable this past spring in the trenches blocking against the defensive ends. I’m looking to not come out on those third-and-short downs. I’m looking to get in there and mix it up a little bit.”
There were a lot of questions directed to Engram about the loss suffered in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl when Engram made his appearance at SEC Media Days. Right after the game, he was focused on getting better. His answers in July didn’t change much other than it was very easy to move past the loss.
“I think we used that loss for the good. We used it to fuel the fire this offseason and to prepare and to better our craft so that something like that never happens again,” Engram said. “We had a lot of injuries last year with Laquon (Treadwell), Laremy (Tunsil), Denzel (Nkemdiche) and Aaron Morris. It was tough, but it feels good. It feels like we hit the refresh button. We have a lot of great opponents this year and we’re ready to hit it full speed.”
Ole Miss plays at Alabama and at Auburn before ending at Mississippi State, a team they have yet to beat on the road in a decade. Engram felt like if the Rebels were going to be a team that took another step as a program, a win, or two, on the road was needed.
“Those environments are tough, but where we want to get to, we have no other choice but to go in there and win,” Engram said. “There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. We don’t want to plan on losing one. We want to win all our games, home or on the road. Being able to do that will put us in the position to compete for SEC Championship, which will put us in the spot of winning a national championship. We’ve set very high expectations for ourselves. That’s why we work. You’re supposed to work to not just go 9-4. We’re not satisfied with 9-4 and beating Alabama. We want to compete on the biggest stage and that’s for an SEC and national championship.”
As for his role during the 2015 season, Engram said he wants to be a spark for the rest of the team.
“I want to be a positive, vocal leader, especially during the grind of the SEC schedule,” Engram said. “Things do get tough and I’ve really focused on becoming a leader, and using my playmaking ability to not only help the offense win games, but to spark other players, my teammates, to make the big plays as well. That builds championship teams and I’m looking forward to bettering myself in that aspect in that area.”
Last season the Ole Miss defense was the best in the nation in points allowed, and Engram felt like facing them everyday in practice made him better.
“And with all the weapons we have on our side of the ball, it’s a great recipe for success,” he added. “Practicing against each other, and demanding the best out of each other, it’s very crucial. It’s going to be a big part of success.” – RN
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