Ebner coming on strong in Patriots secondary

Ebner coming on strong in Patriots secondary
August 21, 2012, 4:31 pm
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FOXBORO -- Nate Ebner is turning into an interesting acquisition.

The 197th overall pick in 2012, Ebner didn't rhapsodize on the conference call he received after being drafted -- though reporters scrambling for information on him would have probably appreciated it.

A rugby player? Who walked onto Ohio State's football team?

Yes, and yes.

And somehow it's translated to the NFL and his role with the New England Patriots. When Pat Chung left Monday night's game against Philadelphia with a shoulder injury, Ebner got the call.

"They were just like, 'Nate, you're in,' " Ebner said. "And that's what I did."

Simple as that, right?

Well, no.

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said during training camp that Ebner is smart, but there's a lot he needs to learn about playing safety in the pros.

A surprise to no one. Ebner's best shot at making the 53-man roster was on special teams and he knew it as well as anyone. On that post-draft conference call he gushed about kickoff to reporters, saying quite memorably, "I just love it for some reason -- I don't know, maybe I've got a screw loose."

But in training camp, Ebner has shown something more. He had multiple practices with at least one pick or pass breakup last week.

The kid has good ball skills.

"I would say I'm starting to get a feel for things, but you know it starts with practice and just getting better," he said Monday night. "Just trying to get better every day, every week that's really my focus now."

A red zone interception against the Eagles, returned for 34 yards, sure looked like progress.

"The ball came out and I just tried to make a play." Ebner held for a moment, unsure if there was something more he should say. "That's what I'm here to do, so it came to me and that's what I did."

Preseason is context enough to keep most guys grounded. Michael Vick, who was injured, wasn't even on the sideline, much less under center, when Ebner made his play.

But the rookie doesn't need to make a case over the next 10 days to be a starting safety, he just needs to get on the roster. Development into a reliable reserve can happen more gradually.

Right now, it looks like there's potential for both.