Eric Ebron: 'My goal is just to help us succeed. Everybody has their own individual goal, but my personal goal is really to not let Michigan down.' (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park — Being NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year might be the dream accomplishment for Lions first-round tight end Eric Ebron, but his goals for 2014 are related to the team and its fans more than his statistics.
“My goal is just to help us succeed,” he said Tuesday when Lions rookies reported for training camp. “Everybody has their own individual goal, but my personal goal is really to not let Michigan down.”
Ebron, a speedy 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end from North Carolina, will have a chance to play a big role in the Lions’ offense this year. The Lions still have veteran tight end Brandon Pettigrew on the roster, but the new offense under coordinator Joe Lombardi will regularly deploy two tight ends.
Before taking the field to provide return on the Lions’ investment, though, Ebron will have to battle through a grueling training camp that begins Monday.
“Coach (Jim) Caldwell takes care of us. I’m never really worried about my body physically,” Ebron said. “Mentally, it is what it is. It’s the NFL. It’s my first year. I’m going to have migraines. I’ve got Advil sitting in my desk in the tight end room ready to chew on.
“I’m ready. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. There’s nothing I can do about it, but control what I can control.”
One thing Ebron can control is how versatile he can be in the offense. While with the Tar Heels, Ebron played in a spread offense that didn’t require him to block. In Detroit, Ebron will primarily line up in the slot as the No. 3 receiver, but he doesn’t plan to be a one-trick pony.
“I block,” he said. “(Tight ends) coach (Ron) Prince makes sure I block.”
Lombardi was with the New Orleans Saints the past seven seasons, including the past four with Jimmy Graham, so it’s fair to assume Ebron’s primary role will be as a playmaker, even if he expected to block.
And while Ebron understands the pressure of being the 10th overall pick, his focus remains on team success. During the offseason program, Ebron was the clear leader among the rookies, and he plans to maintain that role in training camp and into the season.
“It’s just doing what I got picked to do,” he said. “It’s about being a team player, being here for guys, for the team, and just trying to help us succeed and advance and to do things we know that we’re capable of doing.
“It’s not nervous, but you got picked first. Come on, you’re supposed to help with the whole process.”
Since being drafted in May, Ebron said his new lifestyle has had its ups and downs. He enjoyed the chance to buy new cars for his mother and brother and pay off his father’s car. He’s also happy about the chance to support some of his other family members, but admits he’s had to say no to some people trying to cash in on his success.
“You have to balance it out and stay true to yourself and just stay humble,” he said. “I’ve never thanked God so much in my life until I’ve been drafted, and it’s incredible.”
Ebron said he went back to Chapel Hill this summer to train with his former college teammates, in part because he knew how tough the conditioning is for the Tar Heels’ offense. He also took a vacation to Florida with his fiancée, Brittany Rountree, and visited Nike headquarters in Oregon to teach some of the nation’s top high school football players at “The Opening” camp earlier this month.
Oregon native Ndamukong Suh helped teach the group, too, and Ebron said he talked to the veteran defensive tackle every day he was at Nike.
“I love Suh,” Ebron said. “That’s like my guy. That’s my guy without being my guy because he plays defense and I play offense, so we can’t be tight like that.
“But he’s real cool. He’s laid back, he’s a cool person to talk to, knows a lot about the game, the NFL. Obviously, he’s one of the great defensive tackles in the game — or the greatest defensive tackle in the game — and it’s good to learn and talk to people like that.”
Ebron, though, said he didn’t pass along any advice to Suh about possibly signing a long-term contract with the Lions.
As for his own goals, Ebron said the only way to achieve personal and team success is with hard work.
“You go out there and perform every day, every practice,” he said. “Just go out there and do what you do best.”