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O'HARA: Ebron embracing his role as young veteran

Eric Ebron headed into the offseason break after the end of minicamp brimming with confidence about what he can bring to the Detroit Lions' offense and feeling good about his life in general.

None of that should be any surprise. In many ways Ebron marches to the beat of his own drummer, and definitely at an upbeat tempo.

What is a surprise is where Ebron stands among the seven tight ends on the offseason depth chart. At the age of 24 and preparing for his fourth season, Ebron is the veteran in the group in terms of service with the Lions.

Darren Fells, signed as a free agent in March, is 31. But Fells also is going into his fourth NFL season. He turned to football after playing pro basketball around the world.

Two other tight ends on the roster have pro experience. Cole Wick was a rookie backup with the Lions last year before going on injured reserve. Khari Lee played all 16 games with Chicago in 2015 and eight with the Lions last year.

Also on the roster are three rookie tight ends – fourth-round draft pick Michael Roberts and undrafted free agents Brandon Barnes and Robert Tonyan.

By any measure, Ebron is the Lions' alpha tight end. He has been a starter and primary receiving tight end since being drafted in the first round in 2014. Being the veteran at his position – a young veteran at that --  brings new challenges and responsibilities.

"It's different," Ebron said. "It's definitely more fun – the responsibility it puts on your shoulders, and just the attention to detail you have.

"The way you carry yourself, the way you go about every day – it definitely brings out the fun. You're doing a lot more. It keeps everything interesting."

There is little question about Ebron's ability and desire to excel. At 6-4 and 253 pounds – and with a willingness to go over the middle to make catches and not shy away from contact – he's a tough matchup for linebackers and safeties.

Ebron's production improved steadily in his first three seasons – from 25 catches as a rookie to 47 his second year and 61 last year. His biggest failing has been consistency, which shows up most noticeably in dropped passes.

It is an area Ebron acknowledges needs to improve.

"If you want to stay in this game, you have to be a consistent player," he said. "I haven't been the best at consistency, but I haven't been the worst at it either. The more and more I grow in this game, the more and more I build it, the more and more I'm reliable.

"Really, the best ability in this game is reliability and accountability. I have to do both – 100 percent of the time."

Ebron has an introspective side to go with his outgoing personality. He can reflect on how he has developed and matured from his rookie season.

"I have (matured)," he said. "Not only in my life, not only in football, but pretty much in every aspect of my life I have grown. It's fun to do, but even better for my teammates and people to watch. I get compliments on it.

"I was just hard headed. I thought I knew it all. I was who I was at the time. I got drafted high. I was playing at a high level in college (North Carolina). I just thought I had it all figured out when I got to the NFL."

Ebron said he laughs when he looks at videos of himself as a young player.

"It's fun," he said. "It's fun-NEE at times. You actually see the things you know now that you wish you knew then, or things people were telling you then that you wish you would have done then.

"It's hilarious to watch my old self compared to now."

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