By: Will Burchfield
When discussing his own play, good or bad, Eric Ebron often equivocates by saying something like, “With the opportunities I’m given…”
It’s good-natured enough, and a way for Ebron to fairly point out that he can’t call his own number. It also hints at the fact he’d like it to be called more.
Through the first half of the 2017 season, Ebron was a spare part in the Lions’ offense. He wasn’t helping his own cause with a number of drops, but he also wasn’t getting many chances to prove his worth. He averaged 4.3 targets, 2.2 receptions and 26 yards over the first nine games.
Even when his number was called, the play wasn’t always tailored to his strengths.
On Monday, while pondering his future with the Lions, Ebron said it’s important to him that he fits within the offense.
“Because I am obviously a diverse style of tight end, so the scheme is what makes most players,” he said.
Does he think Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme is the right one for him?
“I do. Has it always been used right? I don’t,” Ebron said.
That’s likely how Ebron felt in the first half, especially near the trade deadline when it looked like he was going to be dealt. Some three months later, after the Lions held onto him and Ebron ended the year with a flourish, his stance has softened.
The fourth-year tight end averaged 6.7 targets, 7.7 receptions and 48.6 yards over the last seven games.
“I feel like my successes came from the amount of targets that ended up changing for me, which allowed me to be a better player. The way they started to utilize me going into the end of the year, which allowed me to do what I do best,” Ebron said. “I just feel like that was the best possible thing for me, and it worked out.
“Hopefully we can continue that so my whole season goes the way it ended.”
Ebron said he didn’t request more targets. It just happened naturally.
“I didn’t say nothing. I don’t say a lot. It might seem like I do,” he smiled, “but I don’t say much. I just stay to myself and let it happen.”
General manager Bob Quinn gambled on Ebron at the trade deadline, and it paid off.
“I think Eric, really, the last seven, eight weeks of the season, kind of turned it on,” Quinn said. “When you look at his playing time, it actually went down over the course of the season, but his production went up. So I think he was really used effectively. He gained some confidence over the course of the season, and he performed better.”
The Lions have a decision to make on Ebron, whose $8.25 million option in 2018 is only guaranteed for injury. They can cut him before the new league year starts in March and won’t be on the hook for the money (barring injury).
But Quinn sounds committed to bringing him back.
“Yeah, he’s under contract with a tender,” Quinn said.
Ebron, for his part, doesn’t particularly care where he plays next season.
“I’m going to play somewhere in 2018, whether it’s here or somewhere else,” he said. “But I’ll be playing football, and that’s really all I care about.”
Fundamentally, maybe. But Ebron also cares about his role on the team and his fit within the offense. He said so himself. And he’s not sure Quinn understands all that he can do, especially in an explosive offense, or if the GM even envisions him as part of the future.
“I don’t know what Bob Quinn thinks, I really don’t. I’ve known Bob Quinn for all of a year, so I don’t know. I look forward to seeing what’s about to happen next, whether it includes me or it doesn’t, and we’ll just go from there,” Ebron said.
If the Lions indeed bring him back next season, Ebron will be without one of his staunchest supporters, Jim Caldwell. Detroit’s former head coach lifted the 24-year-old through a lot of adversity in his first four years in the league, and Caldwell won’t be there with an encouraging word next year if things turn grim.
“My guy is gone,” Ebron admitted.
But his development hinges more on a familiar word: Opportunity.
“I’ll continue to progress as a player as long as they allow me to,” Ebron said.