Eben Britton getting some playing time as hybrid tight end
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter December 21, 2013 12:10AM
Chicago Bears v Carolina Panthers
Updated: January 23, 2014 6:23AM
When he takes the field, the game stops.
The referee turns on his microphone and introduces No. 62 as an eligible receiver. He moves both hands over his stripes, from shoulder to waist, like he’s ironing his own shirt.
“Everybody — all my friends and family — gets pumped up when I have to report,” Bears offensive lineman Eben Britton said.
By NFL rule, everyone must know he has taken the field.
Every offensive snap Britton has taken — 169, all since Week 4, entering Sunday’s game in Philadelphia — has come as the team’s monster tight end.
For as few as seven times one week, or as many as 24 on another, Britton’s job is simply to block.
Twice, though, he has gone out for passes.
“But,” he said in mock disappointment, “they were dummy routes.”
Deploying an extra blocker always has been in offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s repertoire, but he didn’t use one this season until tight end Martellus Bennett injured his shoulder.
A 2009 second-round draft pick who started 23 games at right tackle and seven at left guard for the Jaguars, Britton, 26, was a natural fit.
“It was kind of, as the season went on, getting an extra professional blocker rather than a tight end,” Britton said.
“It’s really fun. I don’t really have that difficult of a time switching sides or switching stances. It doesn’t matter to me.
“That’s what’s helped me make the team here and what really helped me throughout my career — my versatility.”
Because all five of the Bears’ linemen have played every snap, the position has been Britton’s key to playing time. Signed by the Bears this offseason, he calls himself the sixth man.
He has learned enough receiver terminology to be dangerous — at least to know when to run out for the rare pass.
“It’s a little different, but luckily he’s played tackle enough that he’s in space and he’s been able to understand and get that feel,” Kromer said.
“When you first try it, it’s a different element out there.”
Covered in tattoos with wavy hair, Britton looks like a pro-wrestling villain but is a man of letters.
He studied creative writing at Arizona and has a left forearm tattoo that’s Latin for “Sacrificing for Destiny.” He writes poetry to relieve stress.
Born in Brooklyn, his family members are writers and actors.
His grandmother Estelle Parsons won the 1967 best supporting actress Oscar as Blanche Barrow in “Bonnie and Clyde.” She has starred in plays at Steppenwolf and on Broadway.
Parsons even played Roseanne Barr’s mom on her iconic TV show — a fact, Britton jokes, he hasn’t been able to work into conversation in his new Illinois home.
Britton was involved with National Public Radio in Jacksonville, where he started five games last season before finishing the season on the bench and becoming a free agent.
“That’s the business,” he said. “That’s what the NFL is.
“For lack of a better term, I had a [poor] year last year.”
Before an injury-riddled 2011 and 2010, he started 15 times as a rookie right tackle after being drafted out of Arizona.
He played his junior season at left tackle, switched there when J’Marcus Webb — whom Britton would later beat out for the Bears’ swing tackle spot — failed to qualify academically.
In Chicago, Britton and left guard Matt Slauson became fast friends. When their families were out of town this month, Britton even crashed at Slauson’s house, watching movies.
“He would start on 31 other teams,” Slauson said.
With his contract expiring at the end of the year, Britton has footage to shop around — even if it’s at the hybrid position.
“I love being able to get on the field,” he said. “I love being able to compete and help my team win any way I can. Now it’s at monster tight end.”