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Northwestern coach: Intelligence and adaptability are hallmarks of new Patriots’ WR Jeremy Ebert

05.31.12 at 12:42 am ET
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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.

‘€œI 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.

‘€œHis 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. ‘€œWatching 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.

‘€œThe 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. ‘€œHe’€™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.

‘€œHaving played quarterback for four years in high school, that helped shape him into an extremely intelligent football player,’€ Springer said. ‘€œHe 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.

‘€œIt’€™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. ‘€œHe 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.

‘€œThis 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.’€

Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Britt Davis, Chad O'Shea, Deion Branch
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