ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Eric Ebron bounced around practice Thursday morning -- a quip here, a motivational nod there. He caught the ball when it was thrown to him. He appeared, perhaps for the first time in his NFL career, to be completely comfortable and confident in the Detroit Lions offense.
This has been what the Lions wanted from Ebron for a couple of seasons now. While it was only one unpadded practice, it might give a sliver of insight into what the Lions are hoping for from Ebron and what he is hoping for himself, too.
The No. 10 overall pick in the 2014 draft is entering his third NFL season. It’s been an interesting experience. He has gone through the typical issues young tight ends have. He’s faced scrutiny for his inconsistency and for not being the immediate impact player those drafted after him -- Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham Jr., C.J. Mosley and Zach Martin -- have been for their teams.
And he’s starting to handle pretty much everything better than he has in the past.
“Things have become a lot more exciting now,” Ebron said. “You know, you don’t have to think about too much. You don’t have to worry about too much. You kind of know your place, know your position so now all you have to do is just have fun and play football.”
He didn’t play much football the first two weeks of OTAs, sidelined with an injury. He returned this week and immediately slid into his position in Jim Bob Cooter's offense. It’s a role he believes will be “a lot more exciting” than it was his first two seasons under Joe Lombardi.
Ebron is going to have to take more responsibility, too. With Calvin Johnson's retirement, he becomes one of the team’s primary mismatches for opponents. When he was drafted, he was supposed to be another option for Matthew Stafford. Now, he’ll likely line up with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate as a primary one.
“I see him hopefully taking strides this year,” Cooter said. “And making those big strides.”
Ebron had 47 catches for 537 yards and five touchdowns last season -- doubling or close-to-doubling his rookie production. Cooter’s offense -- and the relationship the two have -- might help him skyrocket in Year 3.
Ebron said he appreciates Cooter’s honesty. When Ebron showed up for offseason workouts, Cooter had a “mic drop” conversation outlining what he wants from Ebron this season.
“He’ll tell you what’s up. You ball, you play. You don’t, you ride the pine,” Ebron said. “That’s just simple football, you know. He keeps it real, as you would say, with all of us. He’s not hiding anything. He’s not going to babysit anyone, babysit anything. He’s going to keep it real and tell you the truth.”
Did Ebron feel he needed this? Kind of. He said he feels he can talk to Cooter about anything, from plays he likes or doesn’t like to changes that might help. But Cooter will be upfront.
And it’s important.
“It’s what you need in this day and age,” Ebron said. “Everybody’s been babied, I feel like, growing up, especially in my era of kids growing up and I’m only 23. I feel like we’ve all been babied and we need someone to tell us what’s real and what’s not.
“So Jim Bob does that and he lets us know and brings the best out of us.”
That’s what the Lions want from both their tight end and their offensive coordinator. And if it happens, Detroit believes its offense has a chance to be exciting in 2016.
A lot of that could be due to Ebron, who is trying to progress in his third season. What’s he looking for? He’s seeking mental progression, physical progression and attempting to become more of a leader than he’s been in his first two seasons, when he was still figuring out the NFL.
Mentally, he’s taken steps to understand the offense more. As a leader, he’s taken strides with rookie Cole Wick. Physically, well... "I’m still just as handsome as I was last year," Ebron said.
So even as his game grows, Ebron’s personality remains as strong as ever.