By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT - In the months since his rookie season ended, Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron has transformed his body. Intense two-a-day workouts, some of which included chopping down trees, played a major role, and so did better nutrition and soft-tissue work including acupuncture and massage.
Head coach Jim Caldwell made note Wednesday of the change in Ebron's body, and trainer Jon Porter provided insight Thursday into just how much progress Ebron has made and how he made it.
Porter owns Porter Performance in Ocean City, New Jersey, and Ebron came to him around the end of January. They worked together from then to the second week in April, and Ebron will spend another four weeks or so with Porter this summer.
Porter said he and Ebron started the process by laying out short-term, intermediate and long-term goals. In general, Ebron wanted to improve his body composition, eliminate the hamstring issue that has bothered him the past couple of years, and get stronger and faster.
During his time in the program, Ebron gained 11 pounds of muscle, and his body fat percentage is down to 9 percent. Porter said that number was 15.8 at the same time last year.
Ebron has also made gains in the realm of nutrition, now eating a balanced diet of vegetables and protein like fish and chicken. He also hired a chef for the offseason to help him maintain that diet while he is back in Detroit.
Last season, Ebron missed three games with a hamstring injury. Porter said Ebron's hamstring had bothered him during his last college season, too, so with Porter Performance the tight end did a significant amount of soft-tissue work, including acupuncture, massage and stretching.
Porter expects the work on the hamstring to make a major difference for Ebron in his second NFL season.
"So much of being a professional athlete is the mental game," Porter said in a phone interview, "and when you have little nagging injuries, it'll mess with you. When you look at him on the field now, he's really moving well, which is huge, which is really everything.
"I think in the past the hamstring would catch him maybe sometimes in the cuts or for double moves, stuff like that, and now I feel like – I always liken it to an analogy of a car, if you have a race car with six gears, he's definitely working on fifth and sixth now," Porter continued. "Whereas I think before we got him, maybe he might have been in fourth gear, worrying about that hamstring, or the body will kind of limit itself. I think this season you're going to see him really feel the ability to be able to cut loose and go, and be able to maintain that all the way through the season, too."
Porter said Ebron would often work out twice a day, going through a movement session and a lifting session. While plenty of his work took place in the weight room, Ebron did quite a bit of outdoor work, too. He ran sand hills and chopped down trees to strengthen his core. Ebron posted videos of some of his work, but Porter laughed at the mention of those.
"It's funny – in the beginning, he posted stuff, but all the hard stuff isn't really on there," Porter said. "When you first start, you don't realize ... People have a really easy time forgetting where they started, and then by the following month, some of that stuff that was hard is now just a warm-up, like an auxiliary circuit."
As a rookie, Ebron played in 13 games and caught 25 passes for 248 yards. The Lions took Ebron with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Pro Football Focus ranked Ebron 45th among tight ends last season. Rob Gronkowski led the position group with a rating of 22.9. Ebron was assigned a rating of -6.5.
Porter expects marked improvement in Ebron's production and his durability this season. Now, Porter says, Ebron can be a four-quarter player.
"As he went along with it, he could see his ability to do really hard work but for a prolonged period of time," Porter said. "If you're going to do 20 sprints, we want all 20 of them to be the same speed, all fast. Whereas a lot of times guys will be really fast in the first quarter, but then the third and fourth comes around and guys start to tail off. I think with him, he really embraced that, and he was able to produce power for a sustainable and long period of time, so I think that's a huge, huge plus for him."
The videos Ebron posted caught the attention of Lions wide receiver Golden Tate, who indicated Wednesday that Ebron seems to be in a good place both mentally and physically.
"His confidence is way high right now, and he's playing well," Tate said. "If you follow him on Instagram and Twitter, he took pride in showing off his work ethic, working in the sand or trying to get back to working on his catching ability, his blocking ability, getting stronger, so I can't wait to see him in pads running around making plays. He's a specimen athletically, so we'll see."
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