Northwestern coach: Intelligence and adaptability are hallmarks of new Patriots’ WR Jeremy Ebert
|05.31.12 at 12:42 am ET|
When the Patriots starting taking a look at Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert, Dennis Springer delivered a nugget to New England receivers’ coach Chad O’Shea that likely sealed the deal.
‘I told coach O’Shea when we met that if I left the meeting room, I felt good that Jeremy could coach the rest of the guys up and have them ready to play on Saturday,’ said the Wildcats’ receivers’ coach.
‘His classroom intelligence is extremely high,’ Springer said of Ebert, who was taken in the seventh round of the NFL draft last month by the Patriots. ‘Watching the New England Patriots‘ wide receivers and seeing how they work, I think he’s a great addition to that team.’
Ebert is a 6-foot, 195-pounder who put together impressive back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011, when he had a combined 137 catches — as a senior, he had 75 receptions, 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns. For his college career, he had 156 catches and 20 career receiving touchdowns.
‘The first thing you should know about him is that the Patriots are getting a great character person. He was one of the hardest workers I’ve had in that position group, and the results showed over the course of his career,’ Springer said. ‘He’s a great kid, a great young man, who comes from a good family background — which is very important to him, in every aspect of his life. But really, he’s a great character guy — the New England Patriots organization is getting a special player.’
Frankly, his game has a lot of the same elements that Julian Edelman brought to the table: a seventh rounder with the same initials who switched from quarterback to wide receiver, Ebert projects as an undersized slot receiver at the NFL level who also figures to help as a special teamer. Of course, if Ebert has half the rookie season that Edelman did, the Patriots will certainly be happy: Edelman had the finest rookie season of any seventh-round pick in New England history, catching 37 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown while also working part-time as a punt and kick returner.
Springer says that Ebert has a lot working in his favor. First, his experience as a quarterback provided him with a greater knowledge of what a wide receiver needs to be successful. Second, he understands the fundamental nature of working as a wide receiver: the routes you end up running aren’t always the ones that are called when you break the huddle.
‘Having played quarterback for four years in high school, that helped shape him into an extremely intelligent football player,’ Springer said. ‘He has a great feel for the game, and his time as a quarterback helped him understand that playing wide receiver, it’s about being able to make adjustments. He does a great job of making adjustments on the run. He understands that you can’t be a robot when you play wide receiver. You have to be flexible.’
It’s not an easy road for Ebert. He missing out on the current session of OTA’s because he’s still in school and won’t be free and clear until his class graduates in June. That automatically puts him behind the rest of the receiving corps. In addition, he enters a crowded receiver position in New England — he is the least experienced of the 11 receivers on the roster. Things got a little easier for him earlier this week when the Patriots released veteran slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez, but he still has Wes Welker and Edelman — as well as the possibility of Deion Branch seeing some time in the slot — ahead of him on the depth chart.
That being said, he does have an ace in the hole that could ultimately keep in him Foxboro. He’s one of three receivers currently on the roster with practice-squad eligibility, part of a group that includes Britt Davis and Matt Roark. That could ultimately be where he lands in 2012, taking a year as a p-squadder in hopes of getting acclimated to the NFL level.
Regardless of what happens, Springer saw Ebert evolve from a part-time converted quarterback into a key member of the Northwestern offense, and he believes that if Ebert is able to keep the same philosophies he used in maturing into an All-Big Ten receiver, that will serve him well in his first season with New England.
‘It’s a process, man. Over time, if you stay locked in and stay focused, it will happen,’ Springer said when asked if he could give Ebert any advice. ‘He needs to be a sponge with coach O’Shea and the rest of the wide receivers in that position group. The thing he learned here was that when you’re opportunity comes, you make the best of it. Control what you can control, and keep working and keep plugging.
‘This is the first step — you’ve been drafted into the league, and now you have the opportunity. And whether it’s now or a year from now, just keep plugging you’ll succeed. I have every confidence that he’ll fight and find a way to make it work.’