It’s a common misconception that when someone hears the phrase “spread offense” that it is primarily a passing attack. This is not the case though. The North Carolina Tar Heels ran the hurry-up spread offense and scored more than 40 points a game. They actually ran the ball more times than they threw the ball. Having an all-world running back in Giovani Bernard allowed them to run more often, but still. The idea behind the spread offense is to spread out your offensive players thus forcing the defense to spread out as well. This creates a lot more space for offensive players to work.
As the 2012 Tar Heels showed, a team can run out of just as easily as they can pass out of it. With this in mind, a tight end is an extremely important position. A tight end in the spread must be an all-around player that can block, run routes and catch. Many teams have tight ends that can do one or the other. This is a huge tip-off to the defense as to the nature of the play being ran by the offense. That makes Eric Ebron a perfect tight end for the spread offense.
The Tar Heels threw the ball 441 times during the course of the season. Eric Ebron was a recipient of 40 of these passes. He was targeted on many more. Bryn Renner had to have had a lot of confidence in his tight end to throw to him nearly 10% of the time. Before emerging-star freshman receiver, Quinshad Davis, came alive in the 2nd part of the season, Ebron was the Tar Heels’ leading receiver in catches and yards. He finished the season with 625 yards on those 40 receptions with 4 touchdowns. That averages out to over 15 yards per catch.
Bernard had an amazing season rushing. He carried the ball 184 times for 1228 yards. This is not only a testament to UNC’s offensive line but also to the tight end. The tight end plays a vital role in many of the blocking schemes implemented in offenses. Without Ebron on the edge blocking, Bernard probably would not have gotten so many yards on the ground. (Okay, Gio probably would have gotten as many yards because he is amazing, but under normal running back circumstances…)
Ebron also has the size needed to accomplish all aspects of the spread offense. He is listed at 6’4″, 235 pounds. That is an NFL caliber sized tight end. Very few great NFL tight ends are known for catching and blocking such as the Falcon’s Tony Gonzalez or the Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph. Ebron is roughly the same size and was only a sophomore this past season. If he continues to showcase himself the way he did this past year, we will be watching him play on Sundays.