Eb­ner ready to tackle McCaf­frey

Boston Herald - - BASEBALL SCOREBOARD - By RICH THOMP­SON — rthomp­son@boston­her­ald.com

FOXBORO — Chris­tian McCaf­frey is an ex­plo­sive play wait­ing to hap­pen. The Carolina Pan­thers rookie can carry the ball, he can catch the ball, and he can re­turn punts.

Pa­tri­ots spe­cial teams ace Nate Eb­ner is de­ter­mined to pre­vent one of those ex­plo­sive plays from hap­pen­ing on a punt re­turn to­mor­row at Gil­lette Sta­dium.

McCaf­frey hasn’t hum­bled NFL punt cover­age units like he did as an All-Amer­i­can all-pur­pose yards ma­chine for three sea­sons at Stan­ford. But the first-round pick is still viewed as a threat by the Pa­tri­ots coach­ing staff.

“His film speaks for it­self, and he is an elec­tric, elu­sive run­ner with great vi­sion,” said Eb­ner. “He is strong and fast and he re­ally does have all the tools that all great re­turn men do. He is def­i­nitely go­ing to be a chal­lenge for us no ques­tion.”

The Pa­tri­ots re­turn game be­gan the sea­son with both its All-Pro cap­tain Matthew Slater and Eb­ner, the spe­cial teams tackle leader in 2016, out with in­juries.

Slater has been side­lined with a sore ham­string since early Au­gust and is not ex­pected to play against the Pan­thers. Eb­ner missed the first two games with a shoul­der is­sue but re­turned last Sun­day against Hous­ton and recorded two spe­cial teams tack­les.

“I’m in here every day look­ing to get bet­ter and it felt good to get back out there with my team­mates and get back out on the field and that’s what it’s all about,” said Eb­ner. “We work hard on (spe­cial teams) every week and who­ever is up, is up. We have a great unit of guys and they work hard to get the job done no mat­ter who is on the field.”

Eb­ner en­joyed a dy­na­mite sea­son last year when he tied Mi­ami’s Michael Thomas for the NFL lead with 19 spe­cial teams tack­les — 13 more than Slater, who was voted to his sixth straight Pro Bowl.

“You have to have a mind­set about your­self to play spe­cial teams, but you have to have a mind­set about your­self to play this game in gen­eral,” Eb­ner said. “It is a lit­tle bit of con­trolled chaos out there and you got to have your mind right. If your mind is not right, you are not go­ing to do it prop­erly.”

Eb­ner has recorded 10 or more spe­cial teams’ tack­les in five straight sea­sons and blos­somed un­der the di­rec­tion of coach Joe Judge.

“He has just been a great coach for me all the way around,” Eb­ner said. “He has been sup­port­ive, and from a schematic stand­point he has got­ten the most out of his units and he has just been great for us.

“He has been great putting us in the po­si­tion that makes sure we get the most suc­cess we can. We re­spond to him and that is the most im­por­tant thing and do­ing what he asks of us.”

AP PHOTO

READY TO GO: Chris­tian McCaf­frey is av­er­ag­ing less than 3 yards per carry this sea­son, but re­mains po­ten­tial-laden and poses a threat when­ever he touches the ball.

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