TIM AND MIKE: How will Eric Ebron's versatility help the offense?

Posted Jul 2, 2014

The first week of July means that the start of Lions training camp is less than four weeks away, and the focus is advancing rapidly from offseason plans to getting ready to start the regular season.

The first week of July means that the start of Lions training camp is less than four weeks away, and the focus is advancing rapidly from offseason plans to getting ready to start the regular season.

Focusing on the offense, rookie tight end Eric Ebron has made some news with his comments about how he expects to line up in various sets. Also, some stats from last season indicate there is plenty of room to improve on negative stats that hurt the Lions badly last year.

Eric EbronTE Eric Ebron (Photo: Gavin Smith)

How much can Ebron’s versatility help the offense? And is that more important than cutting down on dropped passes and giveaways?

Mike: Let’s start with Ebron. In a podcast interview with Ross Tucker, Ebron was asked how much he expects to be lined up as a blocker, and how much outside as a receiver.

“Fifty percent in the slot, 40 percent with my hand in the ground, 10 percent in the backfield,” Ebron told Tucker.

That sounds like a 50-50 split between slot receiver and some form of hybrid tight end. However, I’d be surprised if Ebron isn’t used as much as a receiver as a blocker on plays when he’s either in the backfield or in a stance with his hand down.

As Matthew Stafford said at the end of minicamp, Ebron has special athletic ability as a tight end that allows him to turn a five-yard catch into 25 yards or more.

The Lions didn’t draft Ebron to turn him into a blocker. They got him because of what he can do with the ball in his hands.

Tim: I like the fact the Lions are preparing him to play all over the field. He’s learning all of the receiver positions as well as an H-back role. It’s going to give Stafford a lot of versatility at the line of scrimmage to change things up and move pieces around to counter the defense he’s seeing. I believe he’ll have much more freedom that way than in years past.

One thing about Ebron, and this is just me, but I think he’s getting a little ahead when comparing himself to Jimmy Graham and talking about guys like him being categorized by a new “joker” position.

Ebron has yet to catch a pass in the NFL. Graham is a two-time Pro Bowler who has caught 301 passes in four years.

All indications are that Ebron is going to be very good and fit perfectly in this offense, but he doesn’t need to worry about a new contract or a different position designation for at least five years. He needs to slow his roll a little bit.

Am I off base here?

Mike: No more than usual.

Seriously, you’re right that Ebron’s focus should be on what is directly in front of him and not whether he’s going to be classified as a tight end or receiver when he gets to free-agency in four or five years.

He has to get ready to play the Giants on Sept. 8 – then the Panthers, the Packers and the rest of the schedule.

I like Ebron’s enthusiasm, his eagerness and his willingness to talk. His personality is upbeat, and that’s a good quality. But from the team’s standpoint, there has to be some caution that he’s not getting ahead of himself.

Football is a hard game. It doesn’t take many hard hits to bring a young player down to earth, and there are no soft landings.

Tim: You’re right about this being a hard game. Graham caught 31 passes for 356 yards and five touchdowns in 2010 as a rookie.

Those aren’t bad numbers for a rookie tight end in this league, but something tells me there would be some disappointed Lions fans if those were the numbers Ebron finishes with in 2014. That’s not fair, but he’s kind of setting himself up for that disappointment if he doesn't have a really good season.

I love the faith he has in his abilities and I think he’s going to be very good. I mean VERY good. But let’s just see it on the field vs. New York first.

Mike: Right again, and it leads me to a statistic you just wrote about. The Lions dropped 10.6 percent of catchable passes in 2013. It was the highest percentage in the league, and they had 34 giveaways, which tied them for 30th.

Those are drive-killing, game-losing plays. Reducing those is at least as important as where anyone lines up.

Tim: Great point. It all comes down to execution from the snap to the throw to the catch.

It doesn’t really matter how talented an arm you have or how physically gifted a receiver you are if you don’t do the little things right.

Jim Caldwell and Co. are preaching fundamentals and doing the little things that lead to wins.

We’ll see soon enough if it makes a difference.