By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Lions love the possibilities that come with their new tight end Eric Ebron. Head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi went on and on when they described the variety of ways they can use him.
The Lions already enjoy the services of two above-average wide receivers in superstar Calvin Johnson and Super Bowl winner Golden Tate. They have complementary tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria, and they have a potent duo in the run game with the speedy Reggie Bush and the powerful Joique Bell. Throwing Ebron into the mix could create a whole new slew of possibilities.
For opposing defenses, the plethora of potential combinations should present a headache in defensive game planning at the very least.
“What it does indeed force a defense to do is to make a determination on how you want to play him,” Caldwell said. “[Fellow tight end] Brandon [Pettigrew]’s on one side, he’s on the other, how are you going to treat him? Are you going to treat him like a tight end and leave a linebacker in the game, which creates a mismatch just in terms of the passing game, or are you going to put a smaller defender in, which also creates some problems just in terms of him being able to leverage that particular player?
“Then also from a blocking standpoint and our run game running in that direction, it gives us some advantages,” Caldwell continued. “It gives you a lot of opportunities. Eric on the strong safety will also create some issues as well. All the guys in this league can run, but he creates an unusual matchup.”
As far as offensive players available in the draft, Ebron was the favorite of Lombardi aside from Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who got picked much higher in the first round. In Lombardi’s view, the Lions offense would benefit more from the presence of an additional tight end with Ebron’s abilities than it could from another wide receiver.
“We’ve got two really good receivers, obviously, in Calvin and Golden,” Lombardi said. “[Ebron]’s got a different skill set, and that just adds a whole new element to your offense at tight end, that can run like that, that maybe you can take advantage of a little more easily than you can another receiver.”
Lombardi likes Ebron’s combination of playmaking and blocking, though Lombardi noted Ebron was not asked to do much in-line blocking at North Carolina. Drops have been the only big knock on the tight end in scouting reports, but Caldwell seemed confident those issues would work themselves out and that the coaching staff could help in that regard.
With Lombardi coming from New Orleans, the new Lions offense will in some ways resemble that of the Saints, and Lombardi said Ebron will help facilitate that transition. He sees some similarities between Jimmy Graham of the Saints and Ebron, and he believes the players can be used in some of the same ways.
“They’re both very athletic guys,” Lombardi said. “Jimmy’s got a little bit more length, Eric might have a little more quickness, let’s say. There will be some things that you did with Jimmy in New Orleans that we’ll be able to do with Eric, and maybe some things we can do with Eric that you didn’t do with Jimmy. They’re all unique. He’s going to have a very big role in what we’re planning on doing.”
As far as whether Ebron will line up primarily in the slot, Lombardi was hesitant to commit. He would rather move Ebron and Detroit’s other offensive players around frequently to incite confusion in defenses.
“He’s going to line up all over the place,” Lombardi said. “You’re going to have to find him. That’s kind of one of our goals is to not be predictable for defenses. We don’t want them to say, ‘All right, Calvin’s always here. We know how to deal with it.’
“‘Oh, oh, he’s on the other side. He’s in Z now – we thought he was in X,'” Lombardi continued, imagining the harried conversations that might ensue as the Lions move players around throughout games. “‘This guy’s in line, now he’s on the backside of slot, now he’s opened up by himself.’ You just want to keep mixing it up so the defense can’t really hone in on what your plan is.”
The pick of Ebron raised a question about the future of Fauria, who became a fan favorite last season with his goofy touchdown dances and his prominent presence in the red zone. Caldwell and Fauria stopped short of saying Fauria’s role will not diminish at all, but they seemed confident they would still have plenty of ways to use him.
“They’re two different guys in terms of their skill level,” Lombardi said. “Joe has a skill level, Eric has a skill level, little different type of guy, so what we’ll do is … we’ll be able to utilize every bit of talent that we have. That’s for certain. You can never have – I think when you talk to [quarterback] Matthew Stafford he’ll tell you [that] you can never have too many weapons. This just adds another weapon for us.”
“If they want to just focus too much on Calvin, then you start beating them up with Golden and Brandon and Joe and Reggie – I could keep naming the names,” Lombardi added. “It gets pretty exciting when you start thinking about it. And then if they feel like, ‘Hey, we can’t let these other guys beat us,’ then Calvin’s scoring the touchdown.”
Lombardi sounded sure that Stafford would approve of the pick and react accordingly.
“Oh, I bet you he’s pretty fired up,” Lombardi said. “There’s not a quarterback in the league that wouldn’t be excited if you get a guy like Eric to work with, so I’m sure Matthew’s plenty fired up.”