The Patriots took Ebner near the end of the sixth round, the 197th pick overall. Like Mike Vrabel, another former Buckeye who’s now an OSU defensive coach (“A great guy and a good mentor for me”), Ebner could have played on either side of the ball but safety seemed an apt position. “He’s tough, he’s physical, he’s smart, and he communicates,” said Patriots safeties coach Brian Flores. “At the end of the day those are the kinds of traits you need to play at that position.”
It’s ironic that Ebner’s job is to defend the forward pass, which is illegal in rugby, but he’s seen enough oval balls sent airborne in his direction that it’s not unfamiliar. “In rugby they can kick the ball forward and a lot of times they’ll kick for position,” he said. “Good fullbacks and wings don’t let the ball hit the ground so you’ve got to cover the deep ball in a sense. In that way it’s similar.”
But except for the collision aspect, the games are not the same and Ebner still is mastering the differences. “I enjoy coaching the guy because he comes in and he just tries to improve every day,” observed Flores. “He’s always asking questions and he always tries to do the right thing,”
After a dozen weeks of on-the-job training, Ebner has absorbed enough knowledge of secondary play to be able to share it with his peers. “Nate helps me along when he’s back there,” said rookie safety Tavon Wilson. “He brings a lot to the game and the more he plays the better he’s going to get.”
Accelerated transitions are Ebner’s specialty. “He’s very mature for a young player, at least in my getting to know him,” said quarterback Tom Brady, a 199th pick out of the Big Ten who had a fast-forward tutorial of his own a dozen years ago. “To see him develop over the course of the season . . . you always love to see the young players bring that youthful spirit that he has and the excitement of playing and hopefully going out there and playing well.”
Who knew that Ebner already would have logged more defensive plays in two months as a Patriot than he did in three years as a Buckeye? A smaller roster means more opportunities, wherever they may pop up. “That’s what you’re here to do,” Ebner said. “You’ve got to be prepared for those type of things. You’ve just got to be ready for when the time comes.” If the time ever comes when Belichick needs someone to put a dropkick through the uprights from 30 yards out at an acute angle, Ebner’s his man. He’s been there, done that — and without a plastic hat.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.