Ebner ready to tackle McCaffrey
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.”
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.