New Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron minced no words in talking about Ben Roethlisberger during a Thursday conference call. He raved about how the team's longtime quarterback "has always willed his way to greatness," and he said his goal is "to be Big Ben's best friend."
The pair only met in January, at a conference on marriage and Christianity put on by the NFLPA, and while they did talk vaguely about playing together, Ebron said Roethlisberger didn't necessarily give him any sort of recruiting pitch to Pittsburgh. But then, thinking about it, Ebron laughed and said, "Maybe he pulled a string or two, who knows?"
As the nation grips with social distancing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Steelers' big free-agent addition is still in Houston. Ebron made his introduction to the local media via teleconference, but even through the phone line, his excitement was palpable. Part for the chance to play with Roethlisberger, and part, the 26-year old said, because of head coach Mike Tomlin's promise "to put me in a position to succeed."
The 10th overall pick by the Lions in the 2014 Draft, Ebron didn't fully establish himself as a game-breaker until his first year in Indianapolis, in 2018, when he caught 13 touchdown passes. He said his hope is to become just as reliable -- and looked-to -- a target for Roethlisberger, as he was for Andrew Luck. He said he's been texting Roethlisberger constantly -- and that the quarterback is responding.
"I want to understand his language, his view, his vocal point," he said. Roethlisberger missed almost all of last year after undergoing elbow surgery just two games into the season, but Ebron said he has zero concerns about his new quarterback's health. He pointed to Roethlisberger's recent comments that he's throwing without pain for the first time in years and said, "If he says that, then he means that." And then Ebron added, "We'll have a lot of fun."
Ebron, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Steelers last month, had a somewhat acrimonious break-up with the Colts after a disconnect over the worsening of an ankle injury of his own, one he said he first suffered in August. By November, he decided he had to have surgery. Thursday, he said he had his ankle "cleaned up from the inside," calling it "a mess." He admitted he wouldn't be full-go if games were to start today, but he also said they don't, and that he purposely timed the procedure so he'd be ready for the 2020 season.
Ebron said the Steelers sent him to a doctor in Texas for his physical. He said he's working out every morning at 5 a.m., and then playing golf in the afternoon. And he's ordered a JUGS machine to catch balls until he can join his new teammates.
As for those teammates, Ebron ran through a long list that he already considers friends. He said he expects this to be "the easiest transition I ever had," because of those connections. The Steelers do have a starting tight end returning in Vance McDonald, but they've always preferred operating with more than one. And when asked why he ultimately chose the Steelers this offseason, Ebron managed to sound almost dumbfounded by the question.
"It's the Pittsburgh Steelers," he said. "It's one of those iconic, historic organizations that you know if you're lucky enough to play for ... you don't turn it down."