While there are no traditional stats for blocking, if there were, Eric Ebron’s resume in that area wouldn’t look nearly as impressive as the numbers that he is able to put up in the passing game. While he isn’t necessarily strictly a receiving tight end, the type that is a glorified wide receiver, the impact that he will be asked to have as a blocker with the Pittsburgh Steelers is something that will be somewhat new to him.
Earlier today, tight ends coach James Daniel was asked about Ebron and his reputation for lacking in the blocking department. “We hope it’s fixable”, the team’s longtime position coach said regarding their work with him in this area. “We’re concentrating on the positive and forgetting about the negative”.
“From what I’ve seen so far, he’s been willing to do the things that we’re teaching as far as fundamentals, as far as being a blocker”, he added. “We’ll see how that transpires in the game. We’ve also seen him make some splash plays in the passing game. I know the talent that the guy had coming out, and I’m not relying on his experiences in any other club. We’re looking for what we can get done with him here”.
A former first-round draft pick in 2014, Ebron has caught 283 passes over the course of his career for 3195 yards and 27 touchdowns. His best season came in 2018 working with Andrew Luck, during which he caught 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns, all career-highs, but he pretty consistently puts up 500-plus yards when healthy. and that is what the Steelers will emphasize.
“Ebron’s calling card for the time that he’s been in the league has been pass-catching ability, and he’s got some quickness, a little speed, route-running stuff that a lot of guys don’t have”, Daniel said. “I would think that that’s what we expect him to bring to the table”.
The pairing of Ebron with Vance McDonald creates opportunities for the Steelers offense that they haven’t really had before in possessing two tight ends whom defenses would have to account for in the passing game. That is something the team is in the process of exploring, though Daniel admits the limited offseason makes it a harder evaluation.
Last year, McDonald played most of the season through injury, and his blocking suffered as a result of it. Nick Vannett was brought in as a second tight end after Xavier Grimble’s injury, and he proved fairly mediocre. While Zach Gentry was on a redshirt year, the Steelers resorted to using Zach Banner as an extra lineman for over 200 snaps for blocking purposes—though he did run a route or two.
But the Steelers aren’t paying Ebron $6 million per season to sit around, and McDonald won’t, either. Both will play. Both will catch passes. Both will block. How much they do so at the same time is what’s left to be decided.