It’s no secret Eric Ebron isn’t regarded as a quality blocking tight end. That might not be all his fault. Most teams just don’t focus on it the way the Pittsburgh Steelers do. Ebron’s getting a crash course in what it means to be an in-line player.
Speaking with reporters via Zoom Sunday, he says he’s hitting the blocking sled for the first time since he was with the Detroit Lions. Here’s the quote via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.
Ebron says last time he hit a blocking sled was in Detroit.
"Not that long ago, but it felt like a long time. Usually you don't hit a sled anymore. They got rid of that after college."
He adds things are dif in Pitt: "JD is my coach and he's been here longer than most people."
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 23, 2020
“When I was in Detroit, we hit it,” Ebron told reporters via Steelers.com. “So not that long ago. But it felt like a long time. Usually you don’t hit a sled anymore. They get rid of that after college. Detroit we did it. It was more of a heavy bag but we hit something. It wasn’t that long ago. It’s just something you don’t do often. You think you get rid of it when you get to the NFL. But I guess not.”
Ebron spent two years with the Indianapolis Colts where they evidently didn’t have a blocking sled. It’s one of the wake up calls for new players and rookies brought into Steelers’ camp. Hitting the sled is done near the start of practice every single day and Mike Tomlin often keeps a watchful eye on how they group is performing. Rookies tend to struggle, getting too upright and losing power or overextended and unable to drive through contact. Typically by camp’s end, and definitely by Year 2, there’s a noticeable difference.
While Ebron certainly wasn’t brought in to block, any Steelers’ TE has to be able to line up next to tackle and be part of the run scheme. The goal will be to minimize his weaknesses whether that’s running away from him or asking him to work to the second and third level, as the Colts often did, rather than digging out a defensive end. Focusing on angles and leverage will be the key to making Ebron a passable blocker.
He’s got a pretty good coach to help him too. James Daniel is the third-longest tenured coach on the Steelers, trailing only John Mitchell and Keith Butler. Daniel was hired in 2004 and has been the team’s straw-hat wearing tight ends coach ever since. He’s developed solid blocking tight ends over time, notably Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, and David Johnson. Ebron will obviously never be those guys but in an ideal world, the Steelers make him serviceable in the run game with a much larger impact in the pass game.