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Film Study: Eric Ebron Is a Seam Machine

The advent of the spread age has done much to change the game of football. A game that 50 years ago was played in a phonebooth with everyone inside the box is now defined by space as much as anything. Modern offenses use every inch of the field and stretch defenses so that each player is essentially in one on one situations. In that environment hybrid players like Eric Ebron have thrived.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In your Belk Bowl program Eric Ebron will be listed as a tight end. That makes sense as he looks like a tight end. He has a general tight end shape at 6'4" 245, but he doesn't play like a tight end. The way that North Carolina uses him isn't very tight endish at all.

In reality Ebron is a tight end sized slot receiver who ever so rarely plays as an inline blocker. So, picture the routes that Shaq Washington made his bones on this year. The quick hitches, spot, snap and shake routes, all those match ups that Shaq won this year because he was much quicker in confined spaces than the man cover him. Now imagine a guy double his size running the same routes, and winning the same match ups. Thats Eric Ebron, the worlds largest slot receiver

Ebron is a tremendously gifted receiver, and his presence demands attention from defenses. The main beneficiary of his largess is Quinshad Davis. Those two often line up on the same side of the formation which stresses the defensive alignment of the safeties. In an ideal world a defense has the chance to give help over the top on both of those guys, aligning them together forces the defensive coordinator and his safeties to make difficult choices. It is one or the other, particularly when the defense runs the ever popular cover 2.

Ebron is very good at the underneath stuff in the quick game, but where he separates himself is the way he runs the seams of the defense.

Against most tight ends it is assumed to be up to the linebackers to cover the tight end. That won't work with Ebron because he is so good at finding the seams and soft spots in the defense not only horizontally, but vertically as well. North Carolina will work hard to get Ebron into pockets of space between the linebacker level and the safeties.

Conversely there is no easy way to cover a player who works in those areas of the field. One tactic could be to drop one of the safeties, probably Arryn Chenault into a robber position in situations where Ebron is likely to work the seam, but that leaves the Bearcats corners responsible for deep thirds against Quinshad Davis. Then there is the fact that the Bearcats generally have not played that kind of coverage in 2013, but Ebron demands a different approach because he is built to exploit the Bearcats preferred cover 2 scheme. How the Bearcats approach Ebron will have a large impact on the shape of the defense tomorrow.