FOXBORO, Mass. — Apparently, a summer away from the football field didn’t hurt Nate Ebner’s game.
Despite skipping the New England Patriots’ offseason workout program to focus on rugby ahead of his appearance in the 2016 Summer Olympics, Ebner hasn’t lost a step in his return to the gridiron. In fact, the Patriots safety/special teams ace is playing some of the best football of his career.
Through 12 games this season, Ebner has racked up 15 special teams tackles — a career high and tied for the best mark in the NFL. He’s also forced two fumbles and played more special teams snaps than any other Patriots player (238, 21 more than second-place Barkevious Mingo).
Earlier this week, Ebner — or, more accurately, Ebner’s “social media people” — tweeted a video urging fans to vote him into the 2017 Pro Bowl, which would be the first of his five-year NFL career. That video has since been retweeted more than 3,500 times.
“I’d say obviously that’s a recognition for players that are playing the best at their position,” Ebner told NESN.com before Friday’s Patriots practice. “It’s a great accolade to have or to be noticed for how well you’re playing. I think my social media people wanted to get behind me and make sure that I was represented (because) they thought I was playing well.
“As far as a personal goal goes, I’m always trying to be the best I can. Really, my main goal is to do what’s best for this team and if in the process, that means I get recognized throughout the league, that’s awesome. It’s a great accolade that is respected by everybody, and that’s just a bonus, for sure.”
Making the Pro Bowl as a special teams player (not a kicker, punter or returner) isn’t easy. Only one is selected per conference, and Ebner’s teammate, Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, has been the AFC’s representative in each of the last five seasons.
“That’s tough sailing with that,” Ebner said. “I’m not really in control of that.”
Ebner said he would be in favor of the NFL expanding Pro Bowl rosters to include more special teams standouts.
“Obviously, it would be nice to see,” he said. “But it is what it is, for real. I can’t do anything about it, and I’m not too worried about it, either.”
Though he’d love the recognition, Ebner likely hopes he won’t actually play in the Pro Bowl. The NFL’s annual All-Star showcase is held the weekend before the Super Bowl, meaning players from the AFC and NFC champions do not participate.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Image