By: Will Burchfield
Eric Ebron watches Darren Fells step up for the Lions, and thinks of what could be.
“I told him,” Ebron said, “once I get to meet your level of play right now, we’ll be really good. I feel like I’ve let my position group down, more than anything. Fells has picked up my slack and I commend him on it.”
The Lions’ best tight end through five games hasn’t been their first-round draft pick in 2014. It’s been the guy they signed in the offseason for his blocking ability. As much has Fells has surprised, so has Ebron disappointed.
But the Lions are maintaining faith in Ebron, Fells especially.
“He tells me all the time, ‘Hey, you are who you are, bro. You’re really good at what you do,” Ebron said. “That’s my guy. He keeps confidence and we just go from there.”
At this, Ebron smiled and rubbed his hands together, like he had a trick up his sleeve.
“I look forward to this week, playing at a high level with him and hopefully dominating,” he said.
Ebron, 24, could use a big game in New Orleans. He hit his professional nadir last week, dropping two passes — including a potential touchdown — and getting booed mercilessly by the hometown crowd in a loss to the Panthers. What’s long been a strained relationship between Ebron and Lions fans seemed to reach its breaking point.
“Boo me all you want,” he said afterward, fanning the fire.
But Ebron didn’t intend for his message to be incendiary. He wasn’t trying to retaliate.
In fact, he understands where the fans are coming from.
“Like I said, you guys can boo me all you want. I take it as motivation. You guys aren’t booing me because I’m an awful player or shouldn’t be, you guys are booing me because you expect more from me. And I expect more from myself,” Ebron said. “So I take it with a grain of salt and go out there and just progress and proceed, man. That’s it.”
Go out there is exactly what Ebron did in the wake of his poor performance, making a public appearance on Tuesday in promotion of a video game. It’d be natural to hide amid the criticism — and there’s loads of it, justifiably so — but Ebron’s well of self-confidence isn’t easily depleted.
Actually, he believes he was pretty close to putting together a standout game on Sunday.
“There’s no point in hiding because at the end of the day, if I don’t drop the two passes, I had a fantastic game as far as blocking and doing everything else. I can’t be down upon myself. I just have to clean up the two mistakes and it’s a better game,” Ebron said.
Sunday will offer a chance for redemption, and one might think that was at the forefront of Ebron’s mind after last game. But Ebron wasn’t thinking about Week 6 as he left Ford Field last Sunday evening. He wasn’t chomping at the bit to take on the Saints.
“I’m more eager to get back to practice and working on my craft and getting back to reality of who I am. Practice is your confidence builder. As long as you go out there and work as hard in practice, then the game comes easier. That’s really what I was looking forward to,” said Ebron.
By all accounts, Ebron is an All-Pro in practice. His teammates commend how hard he works and his coaches talk about the encouraging signs. After another disappointing, drop-laden performance in Week 3, Jim Caldwell pointed out that Ebron hadn’t let a ball slip through his hands all week.
If he’s so good in practice, why hasn’t it translated to the games?
Ebron nodded, ready with an answer.
“Exactly what it is, is me going not going out there and playing my style of football. It’s being too uptight, not as loose, not as aggressive and basically thinking more than reacting,” he said. “This is a game of reaction, so I just have to react, play my game and everything will be just fine.”
There is a mental aspect to Ebron’s struggles, especially when it comes to the drops. They’ve risen each year — up to seven in 2016, the most among tight ends — and seem to be taking on a life of their own. The challenge for Ebron is staying out of his own head.
“It’s part of maturity, because not everyone can go out there and absolutely dominate game in and game out. If you do, (you’re) bred different. Everybody runs into adversity, everybody runs into a tough day. That’s human nature, you just have to put that sh*t behind you and have fun. Get ready for the next week,” he said.
Turning the page is easier said than done, especially when the words are so damning. But Ebron had the support of his teammates last Sunday, especially Golden Tate, a guy who Ebron said “knows me pretty well.”
“We hang out a lot, we talk a lot, so I feel like he knows what I do and the pressure I put on myself. Like I said, my teammates had my back, and it speaks volumes for the person that I am and the person that they think I am, man,” Ebron said. “The whole thing is to just get back to my style. Get back to having fun with these guys and just ballin’.”
For Ebron, the Lions and their fans, the sooner the better.