September 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Despite depth-chart standing, rookie Eric Ebron likely to be busy in Lions opener


Allen Park — Eric Ebron has his priorities in order these days.

The rookie tight end showcased some of his talents during the exhibition season, particularly an ability to gain yards after the catch, a skill first drilled into his brain by his high school coach Rodney Brewington.

“If you let one guy tackle you, you’re just not a great player,” Ebron said, explaining his former coach’s message. “That’s one of the mentalities that I’ve been having since I started picking up football is never let one man tackle you. If you do, you’ve got to make up for it.”

And while Ebron has the size and speed to break tackles and gain extra yards, that’s never been his primary goal.

“The first thing I believed in was catching the ball,” he said.

Ebron will have those opportunities Monday when he debuts against the Giants, his favorite team while growing up in New Jersey. Although Ebron is listed on the depth chart as the third tight end behind Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria, he likely will be involved early and often.

“I have nothing to prove to nobody,” he said. “Everybody has their own opinion about me or a situation or the draft — whatever. I just go out there and play my game.”

During camp, Ebron had a few drops, some because he still was adjusting to the offense. The Lions tight ends have an expanded role, especially Ebron. In addition to blocking schemes, he had to learn how to run routes as a tight end, receiver and out of the backfield.

“I think he has grown within the system,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s really diligent. He’s one of those guys that’s got a lot of pride and really works at it. (He) does not like to make mistakes.”

Ebron showed growth throughout the exhibition season, finishing with seven catches for 88 yards.

“If you can always make one guy miss or break a tackle, you’re always destined for good things,” Ebron said. “That’s what makes Calvin (Johnson) so great. He doesn’t only catch the ball, but he breaks that tackle and sprints 90-some odd yards.”

Johnson said he’s been impressed with Ebron’s maturation, and some teammates praised his offseason improvement, too. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch even compared Ebron to Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, who had 80 receptions for 917 yards last year.

“He’s a change of pace guy for a lot of people and definitely a challenge for a lot of linebackers to cover a guy like that who’s a tweener between receiver and tight end,” Tulloch said.

For Ebron, the start of the season will bring back memories of his upbringing. In Week 2, the Lions play the Panthers, so Ebron will have plenty of friends and family in the stands after spending his high school and college years in North Carolina.

He’ll also have lots of family in the crowd Monday — cheering for him even if they want the Lions to lose.

“That section will be rocking,” he said.

It’s interesting, though, that Ebron could have landed with the Giants.

New York had the 12th pick and were in need of a tight end.

But Detroit, which believed Ebron could add to the offense as a downfield threat, selected him at No. 10.

All that, however, is old news. Ebron’s focus is on playing the same game that landed him in Detroit and nothing else.

“It’s still a football game,” he said. “You can’t overthink it and try to do anything you’ve never done before.”

Tight end Eric Ebron had seven catches for 88 yards during the exhibition season. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News