The New England Patriots announced the signing of special teams standout Nate Ebner to a 2-year contract.
Ebner is subsequently going on a leave of absence, starting immediately.
In the Patriots announcement of Ebner's new contract, the team highlights how the special teamer "has accumulated 50 special teams tackles, including 11 special teams tackles in 15 games played last season." Ebner was a 6th round pick out of Ohio State in the 2012 Draft, where he was better known for his ability on the rugby pitch than on a football field. The Patriots hoped (and were correct) that Ebner's ability would transfer well to the special teams side of the ball.
And rugby is the reason for Ebner's leave of absence. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Ebner is "taking leave of absence from team today to begin training for US rugby team and summer Olympics." The Herald's Karen Guregian adds that the "Patriots are proud to have Nate Ebner attempt to make the national rugby team for the Olympics."
We are proud to support @Natebner34 in his effort to earn a place on the United States National Rugby team.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) March 15, 2016
The Rugby event at the Summer Olympics will last from August 6th through August 11th, which means that Ebner is very likely to miss the first preseason game. He will definitely miss the team's offseason events.
In 2006, Ebner was the youngest player to ever play on the US National team. He was also the MVP of the USA Rugby team for his age group in both 2007 and 2008. While he's been away from the sport since joining the Patriots, he's certainly remained in shape and should be able to compete for a spot.
Best of luck to Ebner in his pursuits of an Olympic medal.