Olivia Reiner and Ryan Wood discuss the Packers' signing of KR/PR/RB Tyler Ervin and the dismal state of their return unit. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
GREEN BAY – Coaches don’t often like to hand a player a job right out of the gate, but just days before the Green Bay Packers’ 13th game of the season and with some of the worst kick return production in the NFL, head coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday the plan is for newly acquired Tyler Ervin to be handling punts and kicks Sunday against Washington.
Ervin was claimed off waivers from Jacksonville on Monday and the team wasted no time in jettisoning incumbent returner Tre Smith that afternoon. Ervin arrived in Green Bay on Tuesday and was on the practice field Wednesday.
“I got a chance to watch a little bit of tape on him,” LaFleur said. “He's an elusive guy. He's got some juice. He's pretty fast. I also like his versatility in terms of being able to add some depth to our running back position. He's played a little bit in the slot as well."
Ervin is listed as a running back, but has carried the ball only five times – his last attempt coming in 2017 – and caught 14 balls in his career. He has primarily been a specialist since Houston drafted him in the fourth round out of San Jose State in 2016 and knows that is why he is in Green Bay.
“Whether you know you’re coming in and playing or you don’t, you’ve got to be ready,” he said. “It’s always next man up so you’ve just got to prepare yourself as much as possible and that’s what I intend to do for the rest of this week and try and go out there and give it my best.”
That prep included fielding balls in the December winds outside of the Don Hutson Center.
Playing in the AFC South, the coldest game he returned kicks in during a season was a 28-degree day in Foxborough, Massachusetts, in 2016 when Houston traveled to New England in the AFC divisional round.
The next coldest? Days in the low 50s against Tennessee and Denver.
But, Ervin said he had some experience practicing in colder temperatures while on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad from mid-November of 2018 through the end of that year.
“It’s just a matter of understanding what the wind is doing,” Ervin said. “I’ve never handled anything this cold – yet. It’s just a mind thing as far as blocking out the cold and playing and having fun.”
In 25 games with the Texans from 2016-18, Ervin averaged 21.1 yards per kick return with a career-high 25.3 average in 2018. He also returned 61 punts in that time for 505 yards, good for 8.3 yards per return.
He played in just six games for the Jaguars this year, averaging 21.4 yards on five kick returns and 1.8 yards on five punt returns.
Ervin was brought in to boost a lackluster Packers return game, which has cycled through Trevor Davis, Darrius Shepherd and Smith on punts and Davis, Shepherd, Chandon Sullivan and Smith on kick returns. The Packers are 28th in the league in kick returns and last with minus-8 punt return yards.
“It’s really a feel-type thing,” Ervin said of returning punts. “Obviously you have to have good technique but you’ve got to kind of survey the field when you’re back there. Then from there you just try to make the best decision you can. Sometimes you’re not always going to make the best decision, but when you can cleanly catch the ball and just try to find a crease, that’s the main thing. If the guys are doing their job – and most of the time everybody is blocking hard – you’ve just got to hit the hole.”
“There’s no fear.”
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