INDIANAPOLIS — “Outstanding athletic ability and receiving skills.” … “Threatens every level.” … “Advanced route runner.”
Back in 2014, that was the NFL.com scouting report on North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron.
Frank Reich saw those same attributes, and more, in Ebron, and when he became a free agent earlier this offseason, Reich knew he would stop at nothing to get him into his offense.
So Reich kept hitting up Ebron’s phone, trying to make sure he came to Indianapolis to visit with the Colts. And once Ebron was in the building, Reich wasn’t going to let him leave.
On March 20, about a week after the start of the league’s free agency period, Ebron made his way to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. And, sure enough, late into the evening, Ebron — obviously buying what Reich was selling — put pen to paper on a reported two-year deal to start anew with the Colts.
And after going through an entire offseason workout program with Ebron working in tandem with Pro Bowler Jack Doyle, Reich believes his newest tight end has been just as advertised.
“Oh man. Let me just tell you that Ebron is an explosive player,” Reich told reporters at the end of the Colts’ mandatory minicamp. “He’s really explosive. He’s really smart.”
After a decorated career with the Tarheels, as well as a standout performance in the NFL Scouting Combine, the Detroit Lions were impressed enough to select Ebron with the 10th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
And after four NFL seasons, Ebron sits fifth on a list that included four either current or future Pro Football Hall of Fame tight ends when it came to the most receptions at the position through their age 24 seasons; his 186 career receptions to this point trail only Tony Gonzalez (261), Jason Witten (252), Rob Gronkowski (226) and Kellen Winslow (202).
But Ebron, who turned 25 in April, knew he needed a change of scenery after his rookie contract in Detroit expired.
That’s where Reich and the Colts came calling — and calling, and calling.
Reich, the offensive coordinator for the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, found a great deal of success getting the ball into the hands of his tight ends in Philly, helping mold the likes of Zach Ertz, who was selected to his first-career Pro Bowl last season.
Like Ertz, Reich and first-year Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni envisioned Ebron as a mismatch nightmare in their playbook; someone who can use his size and strength against smaller cornerbacks, but can also turn on the jets and run past linebackers and safeties.
After installing a good chunk of the playbook throughout the offseason program, Reich learned he was just scratching the surface when it came to Ebron’s possible roles in the offense.
“He’s a really highly intelligent football player, and that’s really good because when you want to use a guy with the versatility that he has and you can move him around and call all kinds of different things with him, that helps,” Reich said.
Ebron, who already has one of the more colorful personalities on the Colts’ roster, has also embraced a role as a leader, cracking jokes with quarterback Andrew Luck about how he can call him “7-Eleven,” because “he’s always open,” but also knowing when to add more serious input during team meetings and film sessions.
“I love his attitude,” Reich said. “He’s got a lot of energy about him to the game. I think it comes to the whole team. So I feel good about that.
“His leadership coming here – his first year with us – I think he has had some good leadership on our offense with his energy and his big play ability. So we are really, really excited about him.”