Ex-rugby player Ebner: 'Maybe I got a screw loose'

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Ex-rugby player Ebner: 'Maybe I got a screw loose'

FOXBORO -- One thing was clear after speaking with Patriots draft pick Nate Ebner on Saturday evening's conference call: He was as shocked to be drafted as anyone.
"I just didn't want to expect anything and I didn't want to get overly excited," he said in a rush. "I hoped I would get a chance to be on a team -- especially the Patriots -- and words can't describe how excited I am to be a part of this organization. The fact I got drafted it just makes me so happy. And my family's happy and we're so excited about the opportunity. I'm really at a loss for words about the whole thing."
You see, Ebner isn't just an undrafted free agent-type talent who snuck into the seventh round. He's not, at his core, a football player.
Ohio State's website lists just two career notes for defensive back Ebner: Rugby convert to the secondary; joined the Buckeyes as a walk-on in 2009.
Huh?
"It was a long drawn out process," he said of the switch. "I was playing rugby, especially age grade stuff, and I was down at the World Cup in college and I couldn't do the professional rugby and college at the same time.
"I wanted to play football my senior year in high school and I didn't. So I decided I'd go out for Ohio State -- what better college program would you want to be a part of. Ohio State especially as a kid growing up in Columbus. I did it and it's worked out pretty well."
Ebner gave pee wee football a shot as a kid, but rugby is in his blood. Ebner said his father played and so he's been around the game since he was six years old. Unfortunately, that influence outlives his dad; Jeff Ebner was killed in 2008 when a robbery was attempted at his auto salvage business.
Nate appears not to mourn as much as honor.
"Obviously, it was devastating. Nobody wants to lose their father -- especially the way that happened. But, the type of person he was and our relationship, I can only draw strength from it. I never really was one to pity myself. I don't know how he would feel about me feeling bad for myself because he was gone.
"He would say every day, 'If I die tomorrow, I wouldn't be mad about it, the way I lived.' So I don't want to, as a son, be sad about it. If I just try to draw strength from it. I'm so lucky to have a person like that in my life, especially as a father figure. He was amazing."
Rugby is now happily shelved, with all due respect. Ebner, despite having zero expectations of being drafted, will now fight for a chance to play for the defending AFC Champion Patriots.
Play where? Maybe not the secondary. Though he played both nickel back and safety at Ohio State, Ebner was considered a special teams stalwart at Ohio State.
"I was a safety and practice with them a lot I got a couple plays in a game at nickel back but my role at Ohio State, they wanted me to play special teams and that's what I did. The coaches wanted that and I gave everything I had into that. I baked up Tyler Moeller at nickel back last year and obviously some safety stuff. Just did what the coaches needed of me."
If any aspects of his first sports love will help in this next venture, it's tough to say.
"It compares in the fact that we hit each other and there's a lot of running and some big dudes. I don't know that it compares a lot. I'd say the speed of the game and the tackling are similar, but they're very different sports. I guess when it's time to come down and hit somebody, as we're running down on kickoff, I'd say that's very similar to the time we come down in a rugby game and you've got to hit somebody."
Kickoff, you see, is his favorite part of the game.
"Because because, I don't know why," he laughed. The attempted explanation was muddled with intensity. "I just enjoy running down as fast as you can. It's just mayhem, it's exciting. It's such a rush. I don't know. It happens so fast it's just one big blur and then it's over. I just love it, it's amazing. Maybe I got a screw loose."
Sounds like, at least, Ebner will give New England's special teams units a much-needed jolt. It's hard to know what else to expect -- from a rugby player.

Patriots bolster receiver depth by adding Brown to practice squad

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Patriots bolster receiver depth by adding Brown to practice squad

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have added some receiver depth to their locker room by signing Da'Ron Brown to their practice squad. 

Brown, 25, was a seventh-round pick of the Chiefs in 2015 and spent his rookie season on the Kansas City practice squad. At Northern Illinois, the 6-foot, 199-pounder caught 155 passes in four years, accumulating 2,295 yards and scoring 19 touchdowns. He also rushed for two scores in his career. As a senior in 2014, he caught 68 passes for 1,065 yards. 

With the signing, the Patriots have filled out their practice squad. The team has had an opening on its 10-man unit since the Colts signed away receiver Devin Street for their 53-man roster.

With just four receivers on the Patriots roster, not including special teams ace Matthew Slater, they've loaded up on receiver depth through their practice squad with Brown, Devin Lucien and DeAndrew White.

Brissett, Garoppolo both practicing for Patriots on Tuesday

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Brissett, Garoppolo both practicing for Patriots on Tuesday

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had both of their qurterbacks on the field and suited up for Tuesday's shells-and-sweats practice on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. 

Both Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (thumb) are dealing with injuries, but both were present for the session, as were the rest of their teammates on the 53-man roster. 

Brissett was spotted in the Patriots locker room before practice with no brace or wrap of any kind on his thumb, but he did have his right thumb taped when out on the field. 

Patriots tight end AJ Derby was the lone player in a black practice jersey, indicating that he has been named practice player of the week. Running low on quarterbacks, Derby may have served as the scout-team quarterback as the Patriots defense prepared for the Texans. He played the position at Iowa and Arkansas before changing positions.

The Patriots have four practices scheduled this week, and the team will release injury reports, as usual, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.