The United States Rugby Sevens Olympic team will be announced next Monday, July 18th, and New England Patriots fans will be checking to see if safety Nate Ebner made the roster. Ebner is one of 26 rugby players competing for 12 spots on the squad. Rugby is back as an Olympic event for the first time in 92 years.
Ebner was a highly regarded rugby star before he joined the Ohio State football team, including to MVP campaigns for the Junior Worlds Championships in 2007 and 2008, and was subsequently drafted by the Patriots. He has the Patriots blessing in chasing his childhood dream of representing the United States in the Olympics.
“Even though he will be away from our team during an important period of our off-season, he will still be getting excellent physical training and I expect him to be ready for the football season like he always is,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in a statement via the LA Times.
The Olympics overlap with the start of training camp and will take place from August 6th through August 11th. Veterans are supposed to report to Patriots camp on July 27th, and the Olympics coincide with the Patriots joint practices and first preseason game with the Saints.
There’s still a chance that Ebner won’t make the team and will be free to report to the Patriots preseason training camp.
According to United States Rugby head coach Mike Friday, “Ebner’s chances [to make the team] were slim,” but when asked a follow-up he changed “the odds to 50-50.”
“Nate has made a reasonable transformation,” Friday said via the LA Times. “He has integrated well and is re-familiarizing himself with the game.”
It’s clear that Ebner is not projected to be a key starter for the squad, but there’s a chance he could stick around as a substitute.
I checked out the USA Rugby website results for the tournaments that have taken place; Ebner has been on the active roster of four tournaments, but did not make the squad for the latest major tournament in London. He played the most in the Singapore 7s, where he started three games and was a sub in a fourth.
There have been nine players that have competed in each of the major tournaments, so it’s probable that they will make the team. Ebner will be competing for one of the final three slots with the likes of Thretton Palamo, Ben Pinkelman, Ben Leatigaga, and Pat Blair.
Based on my incredibly amateur opinion, I would expect Palamo and Pinkelman to make the roster since they’ve been on the active roster and have been starting or serving as a top substitute.
So that leaves Ebner competing for the final roster spot with Leatigaga, who took Ebner’s place on the active squad in the last tournament, and Blair, who traveled with Ebner to a more minor tournament in late May.
Can Ebner make the final squad? We’ll find out on Monday.
The Patriots haven’t been sitting on their hands and waiting for the results, though. Belichick used a 6th round pick on linebacker/safety hybrid Kamu Grugier-Hill who could step up into Ebner’s role on special teams.