Nate Ebner is listed as a safety. But in the last three seasons combined, he’s played just as many snaps on offense (one) as he has on defense (one).
So why was he able to stick with the Patriots — a team above all others in terms of receiving value from its players and dispensing with those who don’t contribute — for seven years?
Joe Judge knows the answer to that. And that’s one of the big reasons why Ebner will be a Giant.
The team has agreed to terms with the 31-year-old free agent, a source confirmed. He’ll become part of what is shaping up to be a very strong special teams unit for the Giants, no surprise considering that Judge spent the past eight seasons coaching special teams — and thus Ebner — for the Patriots.
Although Ebner was hardly ever on the field for offense or defense in the past three seasons, he was rarely off it for special teams plays. He logged 819 of them from 2017-19.
The last year he played more than 20 defensive snaps in a season was 2015, when he logged a career-high 45 of them. Ebner has played in 127 regular and postseason games and has never started a single one.
What Ebner does have is a very particular set of skills that he has acquired over a very long career. He’s made 105 career tackles in eight seasons as a special-teamer, logging at least 10 in six of those seasons. In 2016, the only year he played all 16 games, he had 19.
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even a football player for most of his development as an athlete. Ebner played rugby and even represented the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics. In 2018, during the NFL offseason, he served as a studio analyst for the 2018 Rugby World Cup. That same year he became a minority owner in the New England Free Jacks of Major League Rugby.
Football? He didn’t even play it in high school and early on in college. But in his junior year at Ohio State, he decided to walk on to the football team and wound up posting 30 special teams tackles in three seasons for the Buckeyes.
That was enough for the Patriots to draft him in the sixth round in 2012 . . . the same year Judge arrived in New England as a special teams assistant.
Elbow-to-elbow, Judge and Ebner learned from each other and taught each other the ropes in the NFL. Now Ebner again will be with Judge, only as a Giant.
Ebner joins a unit that is coming together with the re-signings of Cody Core and David Mayo. The Giants also extended punter Riley Dixon near the end of the 2019 season (pre-Judge) and used a second-round tender on restricted free agent kicker Aldrick Rosas.
The one position on special teams that remains a little foggy is long snapper. Zak DeOssie, who has handled that responsibility since his rookie year in 2007, is coming off surgery, is a free agent and could retire. Colin Holba stepped in for DeOssie at the end of 2019, performed well and remains on the roster. He’ll likely be given an opportunity to win the job when training camp begins.
It’s no surprise that Judge is putting a premium on special teams as he builds the roster.
“I never got into special teams with a path to being a head coach,” he said when he was hired by the Giants. “I got into special teams because I had a passion for special teams and I loved the ability to work with every player on the team. I love the fact that special teams is solely situational. There’s no fifth down; you get one shot. So you go out there on fourth down, you better make it work.”