INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It was a season for the ages, and one no one saw coming. Not to that level anyway.
Not 15 total touchdowns in 18 games in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts after 13 in four seasons and 58 games with the Detroit Lions.
Not 13 receiving TDs during the Colts’ regular season of revival, a team record for a tight end and surpassed only by two individuals with bronze busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Marvin Harrison (with 15 and 14) and Raymond Berry (14).
Not being selected for his first Pro Bowl after being unceremoniously discarded by the Lions.
So, Eric Ebron, what do you have in mind for an encore?
Year 2 with Frank Reich, Nick Sirianni, Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and everyone else, he insisted Tuesday afternoon “will be real dangerous.
Sit back, Ebron was just getting started.
In an 11-minute give-and-take with the local media and during a break in the Colts’ on-going offseason workouts, he bounced from swearing off Honey Buns (“I’m on a diet. I cut out a lot of BS.’’) to praising the development of fellow tight end Mo Alie-Cox (“That’s my guy,’) to his connection with another tight end, Jack Doyle (“Me and Jack’s bond is ridiculous,’’) to personal and team goals that can only be described as stratospheric.
Ebron’s first year in Indy coincided with the return to form of Andrew Luck and the arrival of first-time head coach Frank Reich and first-time offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.
It was an impressive beginning – Luck passed for 39 touchdowns and the offense ranked 7th in total yards and 5th in scoring; the team reached the playoffs following a three-year drought – but it was just the beginning.
“I mean, we’ve only spent one year together from top to bottom,’’ Ebron said. “I mean one year, and to look at what we have done and accomplished and the adversity we fought through. It did nothing but pull us together.
“Now it’s like, ‘Okay, you can do it. What can we do now?’ We made the playoffs, you know? We were ranked 32nd last year I believe and we shut people up.’’
The Colts recovered from a 1-5 start, won nine of their last 10 regular-season games and earned a wild-card playoff spot. They went on the road and won a first-round game at Houston before being overwhelmed the next week in Kansas City.
“So what can we do now to elevate ourselves?’’ Ebron said. “What can I do to elevate my game? What can Andrew do? What can T.Y. (Hilton) do? Now it’s about what we all really play this game for and how can we get there?
“That’s our next step. I feel like it has to be this year. That’s kind of my goal. That’s kind of the standard I have put for myself?’’
You mean reaching Super Bowl LIV Feb. 2 in South Florida?
“Right. I mean, that’s what everybody talks about,’’ Ebron said.
Individually, there’s also more to accomplish.
“I believe Gronk still holds the record for the most touchdowns (by a tight end), which is 17,’’ Ebron said of former Patriots standout Rob Gronkowski, who retired this offseason. “So if I want to do anything that is going to be real spectacular . . . I’ve got to go get 17. And if I go get 17, then what do I do? I help my team win games.
“I did that, proved that and I feel like if I’m at my best then I feel like this team will be at their best.’’
First, back to the NFL’s record for TD catches by a tight end. Gronkowski piled up his record 17 in 2011, and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham nearly matched it with 16 in 2013. Ebron’s 13 is tied with three others for third-most in league history.
One more bit of perspective. Ebron has a chance to become just the fifth tight end in NFL history to catch at least 10 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. The exclusive group: Gronkowski (2010-12, 2014-15), Antonio Gates (2004-05), Julius Thomas (2013-14) and Graham (2013-14).
As much as the 6-4, 253-pound Ebron brings to the Colts offense as a weekly match-up nightmare for defenses, he’s just one option in Reich’s offense. Hilton is a four-time Pro Bowl selection who has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in five of the last six seasons. Doyle was a Pro Bowl selection in 2017 before having last season sabotaged by hip and kidney injuries. There’s Marlon Mack, free-agent wideout Devin Funchess, second-round draft pick Parris Campbell and so much more.
Ebron, though, is focused on what he can do individually to make the Colts better collectively.
“I feel like I always have the mismatch,’’ he said. “I feel like I always can win against any opponent. I feel like if we are going to do anything further then I have to take my game further.
“So that is kind of my next step: What can I do to elevate myself? What can I do to elevate me physically, mentally? That’s the next step.’’
Although he’s fixated on the present and the upcoming season, it’s clear Ebron has looked into the future. He’s entering the final year of the two-year, $15 million contract he signed last offseason. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of ’19.
“I know if I duplicate what I did last year we’re gonna be alright. You know?’’ he said. “Might send my kids to private school even though I don’t want to. I know we’ll be alright.
“But that’s not necessarily what I think about. I just know if I go out there and produce, everything handles itself. I was in a place where I didn’t even know if I was going to get picked up or anything like that. I thought I had tarnished my reputation coming out of college. I thought a lot of things.
“But know it’s a different story for me. I’ve just got to continue to elevate that.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.