Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Among Buckeyes with NFL Draft dreams, Nate Ebner's is rather special

("Did I think I'd be in a position to get drafted?" said OSU special teamer Nate Ebner. "No way. But to possibly play on a pro team? I'd like to say that was always maybe the goal.")

April 25, 2012

By Doug Lesmerises, The Plain Dealer 
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four Ohio State players should be taken in the NFL Draft this week.

There's a chance the former rugby player who doesn't really watch the draft could get picked, too.

Nate Ebner is listed as a safety but played just a handful of defensive snaps as a Buckeye. 

But after opening eyes at the school's pro day in March, Ohio State's best special teams player from a year ago is completely focused on taking a shot at the NFL and making an international rugby career just a backup plan. 

 "I'm giving football my 100 percent," Ebner said Tuesday. "I don't want to say, 'If I wasn't messing around with rugby, what would have happened?' It's football all the way, and if that doesn't work out, I'm definitely playing rugby somewhere if I'm not playing football. "But I'm going to be hitting people with my body as long as it can take it. And rugby's too fun to not play if I'm not playing football."

After walking on with the Buckeyes in 2009, Ebner talking about the NFL might seem odd.

But if you're on the field in an OSU uniform, you'll always get a look from the league.

At least four Buckeyes have been drafted in five of the last six years, every draft but in 2008.

A year ago, five Buckeyes were selected, led by defensive lineman Cameron Heyward going to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round.

This year, offensive tackle Mike Adams should go in the first or second round, with center Mike Brewster, receiver DeVier Posey and running back Dan Herron projected as mid-round picks.

National Football Post draft analyst Wes Bunting called it a "coin flip" between Brewster and Posey to see who is the next Buckeye off the board after Adams. "I think they're all in the fourth-fifth round range, maybe even sixth," draft analyst Dane Brugler said of Brewster, Posey and Herron.

In the Buckeyes' 6-7 season a year ago under interim coach Luke Fickell, with the loss of quarterback Terrelle Pryor hamstringing the offense and the repeated suspensions and constant talk of NCAA sanctions hovering over the program, it was difficult for any Buckeye to perform at his best.

As OSU junior center Corey Linsley explained this spring, the team last season "didn't have a concrete foundation."

Adams, Herron and Posey all were wrapped up in the program's tattoo scandal, with Adams suspended for five games, Herron for six and Posey for 10.

They all lost chances to prove themselves on the field. Brewster wasn't involved, but didn't have the senior season he hoped for.

"I think Brewster is more of a fourth-round guy," Brugler said. "He doesn't have a Pro Bowl quality to him, but he has the skills to be a potential starter. He didn't have quite the senior season that most expected, but I think he's very solid all around."

Linebacker Andrew Sweat and right tackle J.B. Shugarts are two more Buckeyes who could be late-round picks or free agents in a camp. They, along with Adams, Brewster, Posey and Pryor, were part of Ohio State's heralded 2008 recruiting class, which most thought would be making a bigger draft impact four years later.

Ebner wasn't a recruit at all. But if there's anyone who helped their NFL prospects with the 2011 Buckeyes, it may be Ebner. 

For a guy who didn't play high school football, now contemplating making a living at the game is a bit surreal. 
Except Ebner, who competed at an elite level in rugby, couldn't help but believe he'd have a shot.

"Did I think I'd be in a position to get drafted?" Ebner said. "No way. But to possibly play on a pro team? I'd like to say that was always maybe the goal, but I didn't know how realistic it was until this past year."

Ebner was timed as fast as a 4.48 in the 40 at the pro day, showed his agility with a fast time in the three-cone drill and did well in the broad and vertical jumps. 

He figured he might do well at the tests, and what he proved is that at about 215 pounds, he could be a raw athlete with a lot of room for growth. 

That should make him worth a look as an across-the-board special teams player, either in the draft or in free agency. He has continued to talk with NFL teams since pro day. 

"I'm not getting overly excited about the draft," Ebner said. "I just want a chance with a team. At the end of the day, you have to show up when it comes time to play." Then you get your body out there and start hitting people.

Buckeyes and the draft
Ohio State should have at least four players drafted this week and a few more have a shot.
• OT Mike Adams (first or second round): First-round talent, but could slip to the second with off-field questions.
• C Mike Brewster (third to sixth): Solid if not spectacular, viewed as about the fourth-best center in the draft, with Wisconsin’s Peter Konz and Michigan’s David Molk among those ahead of him.
• WR DeVier Posey (third to sixth): Decent speed but didn’t always play that fast, now in the middle of the pack as about the 20th-best receiver, but not a bad bet to improve as a pro.
• RB Dan Herron (fifth to seventh): Not great size or great speed, but runs hard and learned to hit holes, viewed as a potential second back in a two-back system.
S Nate Ebner (seventh or free agent): Would have to make his mark as a go-to guy on special teams, but he filled that role well at Ohio State.
• LB Andrew Sweat (seventh or free agent): Battled injuries as a senior, a solid player but will have to make an impact on special teams.
• OT J.B. Shugarts (seventh or free agent): Good size, but had false start and some foot problems with the Buckeyes. -- Doug Lesmerises

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