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July 16, 2013In a pass happy offense, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora has been able to utilize his weapons on the offensive side of the ball ever since he stepped into Kenan Stadium.
Now, one might hear the names of Quinshad Davis, Sean Tapley, A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, and a few other names quite a bit. All of them will be featured in the offense in the upcoming season.
However, one of the best weapons that North Carolina might have is tight end Eric Ebron.
Ebron has quietly rose to the head of the conversation at the tight end position in the Atlantic Coast Conference in terms of pro potential and will be looking to eclipse what he was able to accomplish last year, setting records in both receptions (40) and receiving yards (625) at North Carolina at his position, while catching four touchdowns.
As a freshman, Ebron had 10 receptions for 207 yards, displaying his ability early on and how he is able to catch and be a true downfield threat in an offense.
Last year, Ebron averaged 15.6 yards per reception and posted several games in which he finished over 20 yards per reception in a game, displaying his ability to make key catches for the Tar Heels.
Now, coming into his third season at North Carolina, Ebron has been named on multiple watch lists as being one of the top tight ends in the nation, giving quarterback Bryn Renner a huge target in both outside and in between the lines for the Tar Heels.
Ebron has been mentioned as a 2013 Mackey Award Watch List, an All-ACC Candidate, and was on the All-ACC second team in the 2012 season.
His 6'4", 245 pound frame gives the Tar Heels the ability to have an athletic player on the outside, whether running or passing the ball. Ebron has the body frame and strength to hold his own on the offensive line for the Tar Heels, while displaying his ability in route running and catching the ball.
He has the ability to make things much easier for guys like Tapley and especially Davis, who will likely draw double-teams whenever opposing defenses can afford to pull it off.
Ebron is the type of guy who can really make defenses pay if they cheat a little and roll coverages on someone like Davis, and without a doubt Renner will be looking to build a lot of cohesiveness with the junior tight end in training camp after Ebron missed the entire spring season.
The ability to block, whether on the line of scrimmage or down field, is always an important aspect of the game as a tight end and Ebron is an above-average player when it comes to his blocking.
Whether it's lining up on the line of scrimmage and taking a defensive end or blocking down field on a linebacker, he certainly can hold his own on the field.
His footwork and ability to square up a defender, while locking the opponent up, is one of many key factors that allowed UNC to produce as many points as it did last season.
When speaking of footwork though, the ability to use his agility and quickness downfield as a receiving threat is what makes Ebron one of the top tight ends in the ACC.
He does have tendencies to drop some passes but when he is able to display his ability to get open down the field, he becomes a huge target for Renner to look at.
Mainly, the versatility of Ebron's play makes him a top tight ends and Fedora will be looking at him to be a leader on and off the field.
With some offensive weapons gone from last year both at running back and wide receiver, Ebron could be split out a lot more and become a big part of the Tar Heels offense in 2013 if he stays healthy.
Just take a look at some of the situational stats from last year, showing how important he can be to the team, especially in difficult situations and environments.
At Home: Seven Games (19 receptions, 377 yards, 1 TD)
Road/ Neutral Sites: Four Games (21 receptions, 248 yards, 3 TD)
In Wins: Seven Games (24 receptions, 442 yards, 18.4 yards per rec.)
In Losses: Four Games (16 receptions, 183 yards, 11.4 yards per rec.)
When looking at the stats above, one can see that Ebron was a primary target for Renner on the road last season, whether it is in ACC play or out of conference play.
When the crowd noise is at a fevered pitch and its difficult to communicate down on the field, having a reliable check-down option is huge. Think of how productive it was for former UNC quarterback T.J. Yates when Zack Pianalto was healthy. The Tar Heels were an entirely different team when that connection was intact.
UNC can have a similarly productive, or arguably much more productive, combination this fall in Renner and Ebron if things come together the way they're hoping.
Obviously Ebron can be a safety net for Renner on those short, crisp passes to beat a blitz or catching a covering linebacker off guard.
With North Carolina traveling to places such as South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State, and Pittsburgh in the coming months, there is no doubt Ebron will be looking upon as a main target those hostile environments.
However, in the seven wins that Ebron was a part of in 2012, one can see that he was a significant part of the offense and was able to spread the field for the Tar Heels with his ability to either block or to get down the field and grab huge chunks of yardage (averaging 18.4 yards per reception compared to 11.4 yards per reception in losses).
If he is able to keep up the pace he is at, Ebron has a great chance to pass his totals from last year and possibly consider himself as one of the elite tight ends in the nation.
As mentioned before, some important weapons are gone from last year for Carolina, including four-year starting wideout Erik Highsmith, and Renner will be looking for another go to player besides Davis all the time, especially when those coverages roll his way.
With Ebron's versatility by blocking, being a tight end/receiver in between the lines, and splitting outside the lines to become a true receiver, North Carolina has a legitimate triple-threat at his spot that has a chance to put up film this fall that could definitely put him in consideration for an early-round NFL Draft selection in 2014.
With his talent and playing within Fedora's mile-a-minute offense, Ebron could be that next special player for UNC and could be passing many other names in the record books, not only at North Carolina, but in ACC history.