PITTSBURGH (AP) — Eric Ebron never stops talking. Ever. In the huddle. In the locker room. On the field. On social media.
The Pittsburgh Steelers tight end’s inner monologue is broadcast live for all the world to hear, a non-stop barrage of one-liners and verbal mic drops that targets everyone from head coach Mike Tomlin to an opposing defender.
So much for staying quiet and trying to fit in while joining a veteran team. That’s just not Ebron’s way.
“I’m going to be me regardless,” Ebron said Friday. “Honestly, being me you either like it or you hate it. And coming here, Mike Tomlin and all the coaches, honestly probably didn’t understand what they were getting in a player, but they all fell in love with it.”
Maybe because Ebron is hardly all talk. Brought in as a free agent in the offseason to give Ben Roethlisberger another red-zone target, the 27-year-old with the soft hands and outsized personality picked up his first touchdown in a victory over Houston on Sept. 27. The leaping 10-yard grab in the end zone on a play in which he lined up wide and then outjumped Texans defensive back A.J. Moore is exactly why the Steelers signed him to a two-year, $12-million contract.
Still, Ebron bristles — in as friendly a way as possible — ever so slightly when asked if that’s the role he envisioned on filling when he arrived.
“ As much as y’all ask what my role is, my role is to come here and win, point blank, period,” Ebron said. “If I go out wide (or not) … shoot I’ll go in the backfield and take a handoff. I’ve got two rushing touchdowns you know. It just doesn’t matter. I want to win.”
That’s something he’s done only intermittently during previous stops in Detroit and Indianapolis. He’s been to the playoffs three times. He has yet to make it out of the divisional round. He firmly believes the Steelers (3-0), off to their best start in a decade heading into Sunday’s visit by Philadelphia (1-2-1), have what it takes to play deep into January and beyond.
To get there will take more than talk, it will take action. Ebron stresses it’s OK to do both, adding it’s unwise to mistake his swagger for a lack of work ethic.
“I’m one of the best guys to be around in my opinion because I’m always full of energy,” Ebron said. “I’m always bringing laughter. I’m always bringing happiness. But when I play football, when it’s about football it’s a totally different thing to me. A lot of people don’t distinguish the two or separate the two. They’re two totally different lives. When I’m on football or about football, it’s football. When I’m outside of football, I am who I am.”
A persona he didn’t consider keeping hidden until he got the lay of the land. From the first day of training camp, Ebron’s voice constantly echoed across an empty Heinz Field. Some days his target might be someone in the secondary. Some days it might be an offensive lineman. It wasn’t uncommon for Tomlin to yell “Ebron!” during warmups to continue some sort of good-natured jawing.
For an organization that can sometimes seem buttoned-down, the players insist there is room for a little bit of flash.
“We’re happy that guys can express themselves,” linebacker T.J. Watt said. “And Ebron is making plays, so he can do whatever the heck he wants as far as talking.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey, who knows a thing or two about speaking his mind, thinks the Steelers might have lucked out when Ebron hit the open market after a falling out with Indianapolis last season.
“I’m glad the other teams gave him away and we have an opportunity to bring him around now, and we’ve got an opportunity to know him and see all the things he can bring to the football team,” Pouncey said.
It’s not just production, either. Sure, Ebron has seen his number of targets rise each of the first three games, from two in the opener against the New York Giants to five the next week against Denver to nine against the Texans. But the attention he drew from Houston defenders also freed up fellow tight end Vance McDonald, who caught a key 14-yard pass from Roethlisberger on what became the winning touchdown drive.
“We’re working in cohesion,” Ebron said. “I’m just taking more of a bulk of the passing game. That’s cool with him. That’s cool with me. We’re just using our abilities to help the team win.”
NOTES: FB Derek Watt (hamstring) and S Marcus Allen (foot) are out against Philadelphia. T.J. Watt, who missed practice on Thursday due to a knee injury, said he feels “great” and expects to play.