Coming off a solid freshman season in which he averaged over 20 yards a catch, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron knew he was going to be in position to make an even bigger contribution as a sophomore in UNC's new wide-open spread offense.
But with the Tar Heels thinner in its receiving corps even since the spring time due to team departures (Todd Harrelson) and recent health issues (T.J. Thorpe, Quinshad Davis), the versatile Ebron figures to be a go-to option for the UNC quarterbacks throughout training camp this summer and likely into the season as well.
"I'm going to fit very well with the new spread offense. I think it's a perfect fit for me and body type, playing tight end. It's going very good. Everything is going to be great (this season)," Ebron said to Tar Heel Illustrated over the weekend.
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A big target with the athleticism of a wide receiver, Ebron is a unique fit for the Tar Heels with the versatility to line up with his hand on the ground along the line of scrimmage in traditional tight end sets, and also lined up outside the hashes with the other UNC wideouts.
"I consider myself just an overgrown receiver," Ebron told us. "If I had a 4.4 or 4.3 (40-yard dash time) I probably would be playing receiver. But I think I can be a better asset to this team by doing what I need to do, as Coach (Larry) Fedora demands, and what this offense applies."
During the offseason Ebron worked hard not only to develop himself physically, but also to improve his route running.
He also dedicated himself in the classroom, pulling himself out of a hole he put himself in during his first semester of college last fall to improve his GPA and ensure his academic eligibility for the 2012 season after being ruled ineligible for last December's Independence Bowl and on academic probation this past spring.
"I just put into consideration what everyone said. They all expect me to be a breakout player and do great things this season. I've planned on it, you know. I've worked hard at it," he said.
"I've really just been working on perfecting the catch and really perfecting my routes. With Coach Lou (Hernandez), we've all gotten stronger. We've gotten faster. So really everything. Everything I took into consideration to make better."
Repetitions and correcting mistakes has been a particular emphasis for Ebron throughout his summer work, and will undoubtedly continue to be a focus for him throughout August.
"I make sure that if I make a mistake, if I do the same thing over again---I'll repeat it until I get it right," he said.
With 2011 UNC starting tight end Nelson Hurst no longer playing for the Tar Heels the first-team spot is there for the taking this summer.
Ebron, Jack Tabb and Sean Fitzpatrick, along with spring enrollee true freshman Terrance Knox, are all working into the rotation in practice right now, but Ebron appears to have an inside track to significant playing time with the first offense in UNC's multi-formation scheme under offensive coordinator Blake Anderson.
"I feel very confident if I go down, I wouldn't have no worry in the world if Jack or Fitz went in. I know they know just as much as I do or even more. I'm very confident about our other tight ends," Ebron said.
"We're all one year more experienced as far as playing. I just believe we're real mature to have gotten on the field as early as we are."
Our staff at Tar Heel Illustrated felt confident enough in Ebron's potential to name him our projection as UNC's 'Breakthrough Player' heading into the 2012 season in Rivals.com's national preseason preview of North Carolina .
Ebron's intense offseason of work in the weight room, classroom, and practice fields was obviously intended to better himself, but he tells us there was a higher motivation for him to make sure he did what he had to do to get ready to be a big-time contributor to the 2012 Tar Heels.
"There's nothing like knowing you're not playing as one man, but playing for ten other guys (on the field on gamedays). I have other teammates to help out, and it feels good," he said.