Nate Ebner – © USA TODAY Sports
CONFERENCE CALL WITH SPECIAL TEAMER NATE EBNER…
The following is the transcript from today’s media conference call with safety/special teams player Nate Ebner, who the New York Giants signed on March 19th:
Q: What made Joe Judge a good special teams coach and what about your experience with him makes you think he will be a good head coach?
A: Joe works extremely hard, I’m probably going to say that a couple more times. He is an extremely hard worker, he pays attention to the details. He really pays attention to the details. He comes to work with a lot of energy and he did that consistently over the eight years that I’ve known him. I think that is a genuine part of him. I think he is going to bring that same energy and hopefully that same attention to detail and work ethic. At the end of the day, he cares a lot about his guys, I can’t say that about a lot of coaches. I think that’s special and I think that’s hopefully going to want to make a lot of players play for him.
Q: Do you think if Joe Judge is not the coach of the Giants that you are still with the Giants? How much of a pull did he have to get you there?
A: I’m not going to play out a bunch of different scenarios. I’m not going to act like he didn’t have a part in coming here. I obviously have built a good relationship with him and a rapport with him. Obviously (him) being a special teams coach, me being a special teams player over nearly a decade on the same team. We do have a relationship that definitely played a part in me being a Giant. Outside of that, it is a great organization that I am extremely excited to get to. It’s a great team, within a great city, with a great fan base that I’m juiced about. Obviously like everyone else, you wish you weren’t quarantined. I am extremely excited to get there and be a part of the organization first and foremost.
Q: Talk about your background as a rugby player. I know you were an Olympian in 2016 and how does that transfer over to football, particularly special teams? Also, what have you been doing to stay in shape during these challenging times?
A: That first question is a big question. I could talk about that for a while. The second question, though, I have been working out. I have a private place I can go to and I can get my workouts in that coach has sent us, do my running and all that stuff. I’m good on that stuff, I’m back in Ohio, that’s kind of my home base. I went to Ohio State and I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Rugby played a big part in me being able to transition to football. There are some similarities, the tackling, that aspect of both sports. You do a lot of tackling but even the tackling can be very different when you look at the details of it. They are both very different sports. I think the mental side of football versus the flow and feel of rugby. Rugby can be very like basketball, you have to feel out the situation. Is it a fast break or is it a half court set piece, that’s kind of how rugby is. Football is very studied and you need to recognize something that has come up before or a formation or this or that and remember checks. It’s a very different head game. They’re obviously two very physical sports, but at the end of the day they are very different as well. Like I said, I could go on and on about that for a while.
Q: Along with the rugby question, you are a part owner of the New England Free Jacks. With that season being cancelled, what has it been like being in the owner seat as well? Not just a player who is being robbed of workouts.
A: Obviously it’s unfortunate for the guys and the fans. Especially this being the first year for the Free Jacks. I feel bad for the fan base and the people that have been waiting to see them go out there and play. I feel bad for everyone in the country. Everyone has a situation that they are having to deal with. It’s been cool, I wish I could tell you more about it. It was a good opportunity for me to help with exposure to the game, but also go full circle in my life. I think not having a professional future in the United States to play rugby was a major reason I’m playing football. I was just fortunate enough to still make it in the NFL and still be here. That, to me, was a major part of my decision when I decided to walk on at Ohio State. Knowing that a younger Nate that might have the aspirations of being a professional rugby player, that they have the ability to play professionally here in the United States and not have to go to a different continent, that’s pretty awesome. It’s pretty awesome that I have seen it in the last 10 to 15 years. To be an owner, like I said, it’s awesome that it’s come full circle. I haven’t gotten to do too much because obviously I am still playing football. That’s my number one priority without question. There will come a day when football is done, and I can dive into that a little bit more and give you a better answer as to what being an owner is like. From a personal note, it’s pretty cool.
Q: You have spent your whole career in New England. What’s it like to leave there and was there an option to go back? How did that play out?
A: Obviously there was a lot of different scenarios that could have played out. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of that. Looking forward, I am a part of a great organization and I’m excited. There comes a time in everyone’s career where they are free agents and like you said, I have spent my entire career in New England. Every year you have to assess what’s the best thing for you and this is the best for me. It hasn’t happened in my career up until this point, but it’s something I have always assessed and at this point this is what’s best for me and what I need to do. Unfortunately, it is a business and there are things that happen that you don’t necessarily like but you have to deal with them. That goes on both sides of it and ultimately you have to do what’s best for you. I’m looking forward to coming to a great organization. Like I said earlier, a great organization with a great team and great fan base. I’m super excited about it.
Q: You mentioned the ability to be able to stay in shape doing workouts. You were on the 2016 Olympic team for rugby. I just want to get your thoughts on the Olympics being postponed and the challenges that go into training. For the Olympics, you are talking about a high level of training just as you would for football.
A: I hope things settle down and everything goes back to normal. I definitely hope the Olympics are held in 2021 like they are saying. My heart would be absolutely broken for those who have fought so hard to get to this point and then have it ripped away. I can personally speak about across the board all the athletes. The rugby players that I had personal experiences with, trying to make the 2016 team. They were young and coming for this opportunity, to have it taken away. I have seen personally the work they put in and the years before that, trying to get in in 2016. To have it potentially be cancelled and then the next opportunity be in 2024, my heart would just break for those guys and girls. I hope that doesn’t happen. Right now, they just need to figure out things on a weekly basis, on a daily basis like the rest of the world is, like the rest of the country is. Until that time, the Olympics have been postponed for a year so they can settle things down. They were finishing up what’s called the world series. They would have finished that, taken a break and then gone into Olympic training camp. With that being on pause, they need to just make the most of what the situation is and that’s rest. Take the opportunity to rest and get their bodies right and hopefully get everybody healthy. It’s tough but hopefully everything works out in a year from now.
Q: Most of the time when head coaches come in, new coaches, they try to bring a player or two from where they were to help spread their message, help spread their culture. Do you think you can be that player for Joe Judge, and what would his message and his culture be, do you think, with this new team?
A: I’m going to let Joe speak for himself on what his message and culture and all that stuff that he wants to do. I can tell you this, whatever that will be, not only from Joe but the rest of that coaching staff, I’m going to do the best that I can to do it to the best of my ability. Like I said, the best that I can. Whatever capacity they need me in, whatever I’m asked to do, I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it the best I can. That, to me, is what I kind of watched in New England some great players do. That’s kind of a mindset that as a team, if we can all buy in together, then we’ll be in there playing for each other. That’s what great teams do, is play for each other. At the end of the day, I’m going to do what’s asked of me and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.
Q: You talked a little about your own journey in free agency leaving a team you were with for a while. Were you surprised to see Tom Brady leave?
A: Everybody has to assess their personal situation. Everyone becomes a free agent if they’re lucky enough to play long enough to see that day. Tom has to do what’s best for him, just like I have to do what’s best for me. I see players every year go to new teams, and they have to do what’s best for them. The timing may be different in everyone’s career, but that assessment of what is best for you as a player and your family and personally. You do that assessment. Everyone does. Everyone has to assess that and make that decision. That’s what he chose to do. We see countless other players do the same thing every year.
Q: You talked a little bit about Joe Judge’s attention to detail and some of those qualities. But in this specific instance now where he’s a rookie head coach dealing with such an unorthodox offseason, he doesn’t have his players in the building, what do you think makes him uniquely capable of handling a situation like this? Whenever this season starts, whether it’s delayed or whatever happens, that he can succeed against these odds?
A: Well, everyone has to succeed against it. This is not just a New York Giants problem. This is an entire NFL problem and an entire country as a whole all fighting against it. I think every team is going to have to overcome it, just as we will. You can argue that a team that has a system of things that they’re used to doing is going to run into problems, just as much as us being new to it. We’ll do what we need to do to overcome as we can and as we go and what we’re allowed to do as the time comes. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I know Joe is going to work as hard as he can and do everything in his power to the best of his ability to get us prepared as best as we can. Outside of that, we’ll do what we can that’s within our control.
Q: For years up in New England, you and Matthew Slater were like the Batman and Robin of the special teams up there, if you will. Now that you guys have separated, can you just reflect on the challenges ahead of building up that chemistry, that comradery, with a new set of teammates, and just what lessons you can take from having played with Matthew Slater for all those years and the rest of the special teams that you played with for a number of years, and just setting up a new core Giants special teams?
A: I have nothing but amazing things to say about Matthew Slater. He’s one of the highest-character people I’ve ever met in my life, and he’s a great, great football player to boot. I learned a lot from Matt coming in as a rookie. He was in his third or fourth year and already was a Pro Bowler. I just watched him work on a day to day basis, and kind of what I’ve spoken to throughout this phone call, just coming to work with a selfless attitude to do the work, to do it to the best of your ability, and whatever is asked of you, do it with a selflessness that puts the team’s priorities above your own. That’s what Matt did forever. He was extremely consistent, and that consistency, over time, really speaks to who you are as a person. Matt was among the most consistent people I’ve ever met. I could go on and on about the things that I’ve learned and how we’ve grown together. Matt as a person, I could literally go on and on about that. But ultimately, it’s about finding guys that want to put everything into their work every day, and when it comes to Sunday, they’re going to fight for each other. There’s a lot of selflessness, like I mentioned, and guys that are going to put it all on the line for one another. It sounds like there would be more to it. It sounds like some rah-rah stuff. But that’s the truth. Just a group of guys that really are tight-knit that want to fight for each other. That’s what it comes down to.
Q: Special teams, generally, are a young player’s sport, which is a stepping stone to becoming a starter. In your position, do you ever wonder, ‘Am I getting too old?’
Q: What’s the attitude you have to bring to special teams, though?
A: To me, there are little intricacies within everything that I do, special teams or as a safety, that are very relatable, whether it be calling protections of the PP on punt protection, or just as you make checks on defense or offense or whatnot. No one really looks at those intricacies as much as they do offense or defense, but they’re out there and they’re happening every game. In the kicking game just as well. Those finer points can be the difference-maker, especially in a phase of the game that’s a one-play series. You don’t get four downs. You don’t have a bunch of opportunities. You get one chance. Sometimes, those opportunities can be game-changing opportunities. Every game, you’re going to get a handful of opportunities to change the game. Kicking and special teams plays truly do change the game. Touchdowns, blocked kicks, especially turnovers, momentum swings, they’re big parts of the game. Those details matter, and I think having played as long as I have, I hopefully can kind of build on what I’ve experienced. That’s why I love the kicking game. It’s a one-play series that’s balls to the wall for the entire time. It’s not like you get an incomplete pass and you’re back in the deep part of the field, and not covering grass and it’s a run play or something like that. Every single play in the kicking game is absolutely full speed and a dog fight. Every single one of them. It’s fun.
Q: Are you going to bring a haka for the special teams crew?
A: I don’t think so. I’m not Polynesian. I don’t think so. But that would be funny.