INDIANAPOLIS — Eric Ebron has exorcised the ghosts of his Motor City past.
The 26-year-old tight end enjoyed a career year in 2018 — his first season with the Indianapolis Colts. He caught 13 touchdown passes during the regular season, added another score on the ground — just the second rushing touchdown of his five-year career — and found the endzone one more time in the postseason.
It erased all the talk about his failure to live up to the expectations as the 10th overall pick of the 2014 draft with the Detroit Lions. And Ebron set a franchise record for touchdowns by a tight end.
So the question, naturally, becomes what can he do for an encore?
“I believe Gronk still holds the record for most touchdowns (by a tight end), which is 17,” Ebron said Tuesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “So if I want to do anything that’s gonna be real spectacular or anything that’s gonna be really good, I gotta go get 17. And if I go get 17, what do I do? I help my team win games. I did that, proved that and I feel like if I’m at my best, I feel like this team will be at their best.”
Chasing former New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowki is a lofty goal. But it's not the most ambitious achievement Ebron has set this spring.
He got a taste of postseason success for the first time with Indianapolis, and he doesn't want to wait any longer to build off that momentum.
Ebron signed just a two-year deal as a free agent last spring. So he's scheduled to hit the open market again in March.
That provides a sense of urgency, as does the fact the Colts return 10 starters on an offense that ranked fifth overall in scoring last season and seventh in total yards.
All that despite playing under a first-year head coach with a first-year offensive coordinator and a quarterback who didn't begin practicing with the full team until training camp started in July.
So there's reason to believe Indianapolis has room for growth.
“We only spent one year together — from top to bottom, one year,” Ebron said. “To look at what we have gotten accomplished and the adversity we have fought through, it did nothing but pull us together. Now we have this new group of guys and these new additions — (wide receivers) Devin (Funchess) and Parry (Parris Campbell).
“... We just gotta mold them into what we do here, how we do things here and basically the brotherhood that we’ve built, how close we are in the locker room and once everybody gets aboard that ship, I feel like we’ll be real dangerous.”
Going all the way dangerous.
Ebron never specifically uttered the words “Super Bowl,” but he left very little doubt about his meaning.
Indianapolis won nine of its final 10 regular-season games — including a winner-take-all Week 17 showdown at Tennessee — to make the playoffs last year. Then it went on the road to beat AFC South champion Houston before running out of steam in the divisional round at Kansas City.
Owner Jim Irsay repeatedly has referred to the advantages of home field in the postseason and brought up the team's desire to obtain one of the AFC's top two seeds this fall.
Ebron was in the same mindset following the loss to the Chiefs, and the offseason seems to only have strengthened his resolve.
He was comfortable enough to stand before the team and give an impassioned speech that was featured in a team video this offseason. Now, he's challenging every player in the locker room to elevate his game and get this franchise back to elite status.
“I feel like it has to be this year,” Ebron said. “That’s kind of my goal. That’s kind of the standard I set for myself. So I don’t think we have much time other than this year.”