I might be wrong about Nate Ebner. He might actually be a football player.
Last week, Ebner, a “safety” (because “special teamer” isn’t an official position), drafted in the sixth round from Ohio State, made his training camp debut. By the end of the week, he had four interceptions.
Ebner was a walk-on for the Buckeyes after never playing football in high school. In four years at Ohio State, Ebner rarely played safety. All Ebner was known for was his play on special teams.
So why spend a draft pick on a special teamer? Those kinds of players are available as rookie free agents.
Ebner was voted most inspirational player by his teammates and won the 2011 Ike Kelley Award for the team’s outstanding special teams player.
But ask anyone outside of Ohio about Ebner, and they’ll rave about Ebner’s rugby video. For three-plus minutes, Ebner throws his body around recklessly all over the field, repeatedly obliterating ball carriers. With the ball, Ebner easily out-runs anybody trying to get a hand on him.
Nice to know he’s a great rugby player, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be a productive safety. Maybe his tackling translates well in special teams coverage, but understanding defense at the NFL level is completely different.
Ebner can play “kill the guy with the ball” because it’s second nature to him. But can he adjust to the tight end shift, correctly find his assignment with three receivers in a bunch formation, read the quarterback’s eyes and react to where the ball will be without drawing a pass interference penalty?
If his first week of training camp is any indication, then the answer is yes. Four interceptions in a week is a heck of debut, even if it’s only practice.
Clearly, Ebner has made a strong impression with the coaches. A three-time academic All-American, Ebner picked up the defense quickly in the classroom. And when he finally got on the field, Ebner made an impact.
And Ebner’s play is earning him more opportunities at a position that lacked playmakers last year. When Tavon Wilson went down with an injury during training camp, it was Ebner that replaced Wilson in the sub-package.
Reviewing the scouting report on Ebner after the Patriots selected him, it sounded like a wasted pick. Special teamers aren’t worth draft picks, especially one that’s more rugby player than football player.
If Ebner’s first week of action is any indication, then he has a future playing defense. Hopefully, Ebner becomes more than just the next Larry Whigham.
Ebner should get his first chance to translate practice into production against Philadelphia. He will be watched closely as the most intriguing selection in the Patriots’ 2012 draft class.
A few things I’m looking for:
Playing Catch-up: My post-draft reaction was, Jake Bequette will be more productive than Chandler Jones. I’m going to be wrong, but Bequette does have one sack. Four pressures were nice, but Jones has to bag a quarterback.
Air Traffic Control: The new look secondary was surprising good, contributing to the Drew Brees-led offense’s inability to gain a first down. Was it a fluke? Can they do it again?
Starting All Over: The passing offense was pretty bad against New Orleans. The quarterbacks and receivers need to tighten things up in a major way.
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