|ESPN.com: New England Patriots||[Print without images]|
The New England Patriots have placed a heavy emphasis on special teams entering Sunday's home opener against the Arizona Cardinals, as it's an area in which the Cardinals have shown a knack for making game-changing plays.
This provides a nice springboard to spotlight one of the Patriots' more compelling individual storylines from the young 2012 season -- the unexpected rise of rugby-turned-football player Nate Ebner, the sixth-round draft choice from Ohio State whose draft-day selection was so far off the radar that analysts were tongue-tied to say anything about him.
Yes, it's the same Ebner who played a team-high 22 special-teams snaps in this past Sunday's 34-13 season-opening win over the Titans, finishing with a team-high two special-teams tackles. One of those tackles was Larry Izzo-like, as he fearlessly surged down the middle of the field and dropped dangerous returner Darius Reynaud with a sound one-on-one open-field takedown.
Such plays, coupled with consistent work since he overcame injury to take the field in the second week of training camp, have caught the eye of some of the team's more established veterans.
"He's going to be an impact player and help the team out a lot," said linebacker Tracy White, now in the 10th season of a career in which he's carved out a niche on special teams. "He has good instincts and he's a hard-nosed player. From the way he goes about meetings and studies, he knows what he's doing. He's telling me things at times."