Playing special teams is usually a stepping stone for young NFL players, a way to get on the field until they break into the offensive or defensive rotations.
For Nate Ebner, it's been a way of life as a professional. Eight years with the New England Patriots and now a new start with the New York Giants that is somewhat on a hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
After asking everyone on a conference call on Tuesday how they were doing. the 31-year-old Ebner was asked about his health.
“Just trying to stay healthy, trying to stay clean,” he said. “You know the drill.”
The Giants signed Ebner to a one-year, $2 million contract on March 19 in a move that reunited him with new Giants coach Joe Judge, who was either a special teams assistant or the coordinator during their eight seasons in New England.
Ebner admits his relationship with Judge played a role in his decision to switch teams, although there were other factors, like the organization, the proximity of New York and the fan base.
Judge was the big factor.
“Joe works extremely hard, he pays attention to the details and really, really pays attention to the details,” Ebner said. "I'll say that. He comes to work with a lot of energy. He cares about his guys and I can't say that about a lot of coaches. I think that is special and hopefully it will make a lot of players want to play for him."
Ebner refuses to address questions about what a Joe Judge team will look like. He would rather let the new coach talk about that.
For his part, Ebner likes to talk about his favorite topics — rugby and special teams. He played rugby before football and represented the United States at the Olympics four years ago. It helped him walk on at Ohio State as a junior and make major contributions despite never playing high school football.
"Rugby played a big part in me being able to transition to football,” Ebner said. “You do a lot of tackling, but even the tackling can be very different.”
In 111 regular-season and 16 postseason games, Ebner made 98 tackles on special teams. He had more than 10 special teams tackles in six of his eight seasons, with a career-best 19 stops in 2016.
While he is listed as a safety, Ebner rarely plays on defense. He plays specials at the age of 31 and scoffs at the idea he is too old.
He knows the little intricacies of special teams play, whether it's calling protections on punts or making other adjustments in all phases the kicking game.
“Every game, you’re going to get a handful of opportunities to change the game,” Ebner added. “Kicking and special teams plays truly do change the game. Touchdowns, blocked kicks, especially turnovers, momentum swings, they’re big parts of the game."
It's a full-speed challenge Ebner has loved for eight seasons.
Ebner's only regret at this time was seeing the Olympics in Japan postponed a year. He wasn't a part of the team, but he knows what it meant for athletes.
“I mean, I just hope (it) doesn't get postponed for another year or canceled,” he said. “I hope things settle down and obviously like everything goes back to normal, but I hope that the Olympics is held in 2021, like they're saying. My heart would be broken for those who have fought so hard to get to this point and then have it ripped away.”
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