By: Will Burchfield
Jim Caldwell elects new captains each game, and on Sunday he chose Eric Ebron for the first time in his four seasons as Lions head coach.
Ebron responded by scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of Detroit’s 38-24 win over Cleveland.
It was his second straight strong performance since the trade deadline passed amid rumors that he was going to be dealt. Caldwell still considers Ebron a big piece of the Lions’ core, which is in part why he named him one of four captains for Sunday’s game.
“He’s on our leadership council. He’s a guy that plays. Obviously, he had a great game. Played well last week and played well this week. Oftentimes we try and develop our leadership. That’s the thing that’s important,” Caldwell said. “My most important job is develop new leadership, bring them along, teach them, and that’s what we do.”
Ebron, 24, entered this season with his sights set on the Pro Bowl. That didn’t seem like such a stretch considering he’d increased his reception and yardage totals each of his first three years, but he fell on hard times out of the gate.
Even as Darren Fells emerged as the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart — and the stat sheet — Caldwell believed Ebron would turn it around. He’s begun to do so in the past two weeks, catching five of his seven targets for 74 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s not like Eric hadn’t played well for us. I mean, the guy has literally doubled his output every single year that he’s been here. He had one bad game, then the last couple games he’s been playing well. The object is to keep that going,” said Caldwell.
His touchdown on Sunday, just his second of the season, came on a 29-yard pass down the sideline after he burned cornerback Derrick Kindred on a stop-and-go move.
“Loved it,” said Golden Tate. “It was a great route, great ball and great protection. He made it look easy and pretty much walked in. Eric’s last two weeks have been tremendous. He’s been working his tail off at practice, studying more film, he’s playing at a high level.
It was redemption of sorts for Ebron after he had been booed in the first quarter for committing a holding penalty.
“When he shows up he makes it easy on everyone. I expect Eric to keep building on what he’s doing and keep proving himself right. As you could hear today, a lot of people doubted him at times. He stayed strong and kept making plays,” said Tate. “That’s what we need.”
When Ebron struggles, it’s easy to pinpoint his flaws, most notably his susceptibility to drops. When he succeeds, it’s impossible to miss his strengths.
“Everybody knows that he’s an unusual talent because of the fact that he’s a big guy that can run,” said Caldwell. “You have to figure out how you’re going to treat him. You typically cover those kinds of guys with linebacker types or strong safeties, and when he’s playing well he can create mismatches.”
That’s once again become evident. Still, Ebron’s stat line through nine games — 20 receptions, 234 yards, two touchdowns — leaves much to be desired.
“The season’s not over yet,” Caldwell said. “Let’s wait until it’s over with and then let’s add them up. I’ll have a real good answer for you at that point in time, but I can’t predict the future.”