Mismatch Extraordinaire

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The previous UNC coaching staff split the tight end group into two different positions. It's probably best, however, that the current staff sticks to the traditional nomenclature considering that Eric Ebron warrants a variety of position labels.

On Saturday, North Carolina faced a 3rd-and-12 at East Carolina's 39-yard line early in the second quarter, clinging to a 7-3 lead. Ebron, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound sophomore, lined up in the right slot and quickly found a hole in ECU's zone defense just shy of the first down marker.

After quarterback Bryn Renner delivered him the ball, Ebron turned upfield and was met two yards short of the sticks by backup strong safety Desi Brown. The collision didn't end well for the Pirate sophomore as Ebron effectively ran him over and charged his way down to the ECU five-yard line for a 34-yard gain.

On the first play of North Carolina's next possession, Ebron lined up beside right tackle Brennan Williams and ran a simple five-yard crossing route over the middle. Renner, seeing that inside linebacker Kyle Tudor was covering his tight end, made the short pass and watched as Ebron outran his defender and stiff-armed a defensive back on the way to a 27-yard pickup.

Those two plays are all that's needed to understand Ebron's value to this offense. If you try to cover him with a defensive back, he very well may truck the smaller defender. Put a linebacker on him instead and he may decide just to run past you.

That's one thing I have that makes me a mismatch for everybody – my speed and my strength," Ebron said following Saturday's win. "I just use that to my advantage and create plays for this offense the best that I can."

Quarterback Bryn Renner elaborated on the Greensboro, N.C. native's versatility on Monday.

"He's the most versatile tight end I've ever seen," Renner said. "He could probably start at X receiver if we wanted him to."

While fans and media were intrigued to see what Larry Fedora and his coaching staff would do with the stable of tight ends left over from the Butch Davis era, Ebron's initial concerns were answered by a brief phone call with tight ends coach Walt Bell.

According to Ebron, that phone call last December played out this way: "Hey, I'm your new coach. Don't worry about the tights ends. We get the ball."

Ebron's response? "Okay."

It helped that Fedora could point to tight end Brandon Pettigrew from his time at Oklahoma State. Pettigrew was selected by Detroit with the 20th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Ebron admits that he's "basically" a wide receiver in UNC's new spread offense, but makes a point to stress that he still puts his hand on the ground and has to block defensive ends.

"It's really different blocking a defensive end than block a defensive back," Ebron said. "You have to know how [defensive backs] utilize their strengths, which is speed, versus a defensive end's strength, which is his strength. You just have to learn the balance in between those [two]."

Ebron is currently second on the team in receptions with 14 for 210 yards and a team-high three touchdowns. He's averaging 15.0 yards per catch, including a long of 49 yards.

"We're very fortunate to have him, as far as what he can do with the ball in his hands and even catching the ball and making big plays," Renner said. "Every game he's come up with a big play and we really look to him to be that guy we need to make a big play. He's an unbelievable athlete."

With North Carolina's injury-riddled wide receiver corps, Ebron's versatility could pay even larger dividends as the season progresses.

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