Ebron hoping to carry on tradition of great Lions’ tight ends

Eric Ebron was the 19th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Eric Ebron was the 10th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.

There’s something special about the tight end position when it comes to the Detroit Lions.

It’s the position of Charlie Sanders, so there you have it.

There isn’t a Lions fan of age 50-plus worth his salt who can’t still see Sanders cutting across the middle, with shoulder pads as big as a lineman’s, hauling in a pass for a big third down conversion.

Sanders, in his big number 88, rivaling anything John Mackey or Ozzie Newsome could offer, wasn’t just a tight end—he was on many Sundays the Lions’ best player on offense. His huge hands were as sure as any receiver’s. He could block, catch and run—sometimes all on the same play.

A few years after Sanders retired, David Hill played tight end for the Lions and while he was no Charlie Sanders (who was?), he did the position proud for a few productive years.

After Hill, tight end became a position on the Lions that was occupied by one player after another who was long in the tooth—fading stars whose best years were with other teams. Their time in Detroit was fleeting as they passed through town on their way to a pension.

As the gap widened between Charlie Sanders’ days and the current, and especially after Sanders was finally elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, tight end in Detroit eventually became a position that was long on respect but short on productivity.

Tight end in Detroit was like a place at the family dinner table that no one sat in, out of deference for the deceased.

“That was Charlie’s seat,” you could almost hear it being whispered. “We don’t let anyone sit there anymore. Not that they would even think of it.”

Today, tight end has a shot at being relevant again with the Lions. The franchise is on the verge of dusting off Charlie’s chair.

That is, if they would ever get around to using Eric Ebron.

Ebron, the Lions’ first round draft pick from last spring, is the highest-drafted tight end by Detroit, ever. And that includes Charlie Sanders, who wasn’t plucked off the board until the third round in 1968, from the University of Minnesota.

In 2009, the Lions used a first round pick to draft Brandon Pettigrew out of Oklahoma State. But Pettigrew was the 20th overall pick. Ebron was the 10th overall selection (North Carolina) in the 2014 draft.

Yet Ebron hasn’t seen the football very much in his six-game (so far) NFL career.

In fact, the numbers are bordering on driving folks to use the dreaded B-word when it comes to the draft: Bust.

Ebron, in six games, has just 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.

That extrapolates to 27 receptions for 270 yards and two touchdowns, rounding up, for an entire season.

Those aren’t numbers worthy of the 10th overall selection.

With All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson MIA with a bum ankle in recent weeks—and the prognosis isn’t very good for the near future—it was presumed that Ebron might play a bigger role in the Lions offense.

But it hasn’t happened. Not even close.

Some pro football analysts suggest that Ebron is making his presence known in subtle ways that aren’t visible on the stat sheet; they say that his receiver-like speed and quickness is helping to draw defenders and open room underneath for guys like Golden Tate.

That’s fine and dandy, but no tight end is drafted 10th overall to be subtle. It would be like selecting a three-point shooting specialist in basketball and using him as a decoy.

Maybe Ebron hasn’t yet earned the trust of the coaches or quarterback Matthew Stafford. But again, that’s a troubling thought, considering that when you count off-season OTAs and training camp and the exhibition season and the regular season, Ebron has had roughly 16 weeks to show his stuff.

Coach Jim Caldwell said during his weekly press conference on Monday that the Lions offense isn’t predicated on getting certain players a certain number of touches. He said the offense’s mission is to be efficient and mistake-free, not to establish personal statistical milestones.

He might have been talking about Eric Ebron, whose involvement in the offense, or lack thereof, has been a growing concern among the fan base.

The Lions made Ebron their highest-ever drafted tight end, but they appear reluctant to throw the ball to him. And it’s not like Ebron arrived with the reputation of being a great blocker.

Of course, a 4-2 record makes things more forgivable. For now.

Still, the longer Ebron goes without having footballs thrown his way, his selection in the draft—which was sort of controversial to begin with—will continue to be looked at cross-eyed, and with good reason.

I love that the Lions hired a Pro Bowl kicker, but I hate that Matt Prater missed two of three FGAs in Minnesota on Sunday. It’s hard not to have that “here we go again” feeling.

I love that the Red Wings played their hearts out against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, but I hate that they got rooked in the waning seconds by the officiating, when a non-call on Niklas Kronwall led directly to the game-winning goal by Ryan Getzlaff.

I love Calvin Johnson, but I hate that something is always wrong with him lately, physically. The last couple seasons it’s always something: a knee, some fingers, and now an ankle.

I hate that my alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, is just 2-4 in football this season, but I love Coach Chris Creighton. I’ve spoken with him a few times and we’ve texted, and I am confident that EMU finally has a football coach that can bring the program back to relevance.