When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Eric Ebron prior to last year, they knew what they were getting. An athletic player, someone who functioned more like a receiver than a true tight end, and a player who would be a below-average blocker and suffer some pull-your-hair-out drops. And that’s pretty much what happened in 2020. Ebron became the fourth Steelers’ tight end to have a 50/500/5 season but his blocking was poor and his drops were ugly.
New tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts is hoping to change that this season. Roberts spoke with the media following Tuesday’s practice to talk about his expectations for Ebron’s second year with the team.
ESPN’s Brooke Pryor tweeted out what Roberts said.
TE coach Alfredo Roberts asked if Ebron can be a better blocker this year: "I'm more than hoping. I'm going to say he's going to be a more efficient player in his whole game."
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) July 27, 2021
“Efficient” is the key word there. It’s never been Ebron’s strong suit. He’s been inconsistent throughout his career, making impressive plays as a receiver – including last year – but that comes with plenty of variance along the way.
His blocking was one of many reasons why the Steelers’ run game was so poor last year. Arguably his worst blocking moment last season came on 4th and goal in the team’s first loss to Washington. Ebron overset against Chase Young, allowing him to fly into the backfield and stop Benny Snell from leaping over the goal line.
4th and goal failure. Ebron motioned across, set too wide as the snap happens. Can't make down block on Young. Just had to get a piece of him. Young tackles Snell before he can leap into the end zone. Basic leverage/timing fail. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/56cYn7pp3Z
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 8, 2020
The Steelers drafted Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second round of the draft. Even as a rookie who has yet to take an NFL snap, Freiermuth probably already is a better blocker. He could siphon away some snaps from Ebron as an in-line tight end this season. Ebron could also play in the slot more if the Steelers want to get JuJu Smith-Schuster additional outside snaps with Freiermuth coming on the field as the Y tight end.
There are still ways for the team to minimize Ebron’s lack of run blocking. Leverage and angles are key with him. When those are applied, he can even block guys like JJ Watt.
Even if Roberts improves his overall game, this is probably Ebron’s last year with the Steelers. He’ll be a free agent after the season and approaching the wrong side of 30. With Freiermuth waiting in the wings, he’s poised to take over as the team’s starting tight end in 2022. That’s likely the plan the team had when they drafted him.