- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. – He turned up the field, beat the defender, and quarterback Matthew Stafford launched the ball in the direction of his new tight end, Eric Ebron. It was in the midst of a scrimmage during family day Saturday and Ebron, who had struggled with catching the ball during his first week, ran under it.
Then he snagged it in stride for a massive gain, one of the highlight plays of an up-and-down first few days of Detroit Lions training camp for the No. 10 overall pick of May’s NFL draft.
While one play in one practice during the first week of his first training camp isn’t going to eliminate all the mental mistakes he made prior to Saturday, each catch will help as the playbook simplifies for him while he attempts to learn four spots in the Detroit offense all at once.
“It takes people, like, three years to master one position, and I’m out here and I’m learning three to four positions,” Ebron said. “It’s fun. They know that I’m smart enough to be able to do it and they know I have the talent to do it, and I’m just going to go out here and show them that I can.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell understands Ebron’s progress could be incremental for a while as he picks up all the nuances of a position that could see him lined up in the slot, outside, next to the offensive line and perhaps even in the backfield on some plays.
With each play comes different options and alignments and trying to compartmentalize all of that has been a challenge for him. It is, he said, part of the explanation for the drop issues that started at North Carolina and have followed him to Detroit early on.
“It’s just a mental blockage,” Ebron said. “It’s me overthinking my assignments and my alignments and making sure I’m right. While all of those are playing in my head, here comes a 90 mile-an-hour fastball from Matt Stafford.
“You’re not going to catch it. You’re never going to catch it if you are thinking about doing something else while a ball is coming to you.”
So when looking at his big catch Saturday, he sees it as progress. It is him feeling even a little bit more comfortable with all the roles the Lions are preparing him to play. See, his big catch Saturday showed his athleticism and his instincts – two of the things that made him attractive as a complementary piece to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate in the Lions’ offense in the first place.
“Now I’m starting to be able to do the things that I did in college,” Ebron said. “The things that got you drafted so high.”
Still, there will be both good and bad days ahead for Ebron. In some ways, he understands that. There is still much to learn, even if the playbook that he once joked he needed to take Advil to handle has simplified a bit within his first week.
There still are firsts to learn and still things to pick up. There will be coverages he hasn’t seen and schemes he needs to digest. There are areas he needs to learn, still, and it’ll come.
“I think, there’s no question with all the things he has to learn that he’s certainly a work in progress,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s certainly getting better. … The guy lines up in so many different places.
“It’s not an easy task. So he’s getting accustomed to it, getting better all the time, grasping things a little bit better and I see he’s making plays. We’ve got to keep that going.”