Rischad Whitfield, also known by his nickname “The Footwork King” has trained some of the premier athletes in the NFL— players such as Le’Veon Bell, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins and Joe Haden have worked on their craft and hone their skills training with Whitfield.
The Steelers biggest free agent acquisition this year tight end Eric Ebron has been working with Whitfield in Houston, Texas this offseason for the second consecutive year. Ebron is hoping to have a bounce-back season with Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback and return to Pro Bowl status as he did in 2018 with the Colts when he had 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Ebron was dealt a bad hand in Indianapolis last year as Andrew Luck retired right before the start of the regular season and no longer had a top-tier quarterback throwing to him. Quarterback issues aside, Ebron dealt with an ankle injury all season which ultimately required him to get season-ending surgery in late November.
In speaking with Whitfield recently, he gave me his thoughts on Ebron’s ability as well as what he could potentially bring to the Steelers in 2020.
“A guy like Ben loves his tight ends and Ebron is going to take pressure off JuJu (Smith-Schuster) and Diontae (Johnson),” Whitfield said. “With Andrew Luck, Ebron had a great connection with him, same thing when he was with Matthew Stafford in Detroit.”
Whitfield says Ebron is in the best shape as possible and is excited to see what he can do in Pittsburgh this season.
“He’s been working his butt off with me 2-3 times each week,” Whitfield stated. “I kind of split everything up with Eric. There are certain things we work on every time we are out. I’m excited for him this season, he’s a huge addition for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I can’t wait.”
Ebron has also been progressing well with on-field workouts and there have been no setbacks after rehabbing all offseason from ankle surgery.
“He’s been excellent, he’s at full-health,” Whitfield added. “I wanted to make sure he was at full-health and he got the green light to start cutting. His coach (tight ends coach James Daniel) actually said something to me about it as well. Since the guys are in quarantine and with everything going on they really haven’t got to see him work out, so I got to show them he’s cutting and changing direction like crazy. He’s cutting hard, quick and violent, man. His sudden quickness is great, his hand-eye coordination is unreal. He’s 100 percent, he’s ready to go this season.”
From following Ebron on social media, one can tell he’s a real high-energy guy who likes to spread positive vibes. He should be a welcomed addition to the Steelers’ locker room and fit right in with the nucleus of the offense with guys like Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster and James Conner.
“Every work out Ebron has very high-energy, ready to put in the work and is very positive,” Whitfield said. “He’s one of the most underrated tight ends, you see him get over-shined a lot by (George) Kittle and (Travis) Kelce, but Eric is a very athletic tight end, the things that he did when he was healthy with the Colts was huge. He’s had many talks with Big Ben already, they plan on connecting a lot. As a matter of fact, he was in Pittsburgh last week for a throwing session.”
With Roethlisberger sidelined for all but six quarters in 2019 due to season-ending elbow surgery, the offense struggled statistically across the board with inexperienced quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. One area that Ebron is hoping to help the Steelers is their red zone offense, which ranked last in the league last year.
“He’s going to get open and get separation,” Whitfield said. “You can incorporate his length of size against linebackers. It’s a mismatch. He has the softest hands that I’ve ever seen and his catch radius is unreal. He can line up out at the wide-out position. I know he’s going to be used wisely and a lot for the Steelers. He’s a real scheme flexible tight end.”
Ebron, standing at 6-foot-4, 253 pounds, is a big red zone target for Roethlisberger. He also has tremendous speed and athleticism to go along with his big frame, which creates a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties to cover him.
“People have to be really impressed with his agility for being a big dude, he’s very, very agile,” Whitfield stated. “He’s a downfield threat and you can throw the jump ball to him, too. So that’s going to be good for the red zone. Any type of zone coverage, he’s going to kill that. He’s going to find the weakness and sit down in those soft spots and make himself a target. You know Ben’s going to get it to him.”
Whitfield trained Haden for the first time last offseason in Los Angeles and the hard work paid off. The 10-year veteran was named to his first Pro Bowl since 2014, and his five interceptions were the most since 2010 when he had six during his rookie season with the Browns. Whitfield will start training Haden for the upcoming season next month.
“I’ll work with Eric straight through until training camp comes and then I’ll go to L.A. in July and I’ll train Odell and Joe,” Whitfield said. “I’ll fine-tune Joe and get him ready for the season. He had a great season last year.”
Whitfield is hoping Ebron will reach Pro Bowl honors again like Haden did last season. With the work that Ebron has put in this offseason and now having a franchise quarterback throwing the ball to him again, similar to how it was when he was with Luck in Indianapolis, he could have a recurrence of his 2018 season.
“I know just watching what Ben did with Jesse James and Vance McDonald, the way how tight end friendly Ben was with those guys, I know for a fact he’s going to love Ebron,” Whitfield concluded. “I am excited to see him play this year with Ben. He and Ben have been connecting and Ben already told him he’s going to get a lot of targets and feed him.”