As Packers search for offensive playmakers, Tyler Ervin appears to be in the mix
GREEN BAY – Running back Tyler Ervin became a member of the Green Bay Packers because the team was in dire need of a returner last year.
He got his first chance on offense because Jamaal Williams was out with a shoulder injury in the second-to-last game of the season.
After hitting free agency in March, Ervin signed a one-year, $1.047 million contract, including a $137,000 signing bonus, because the Packers were interested in seeing more.
Through the first two days of training camp, it’s obvious the Packers are convinced Ervin can help them in multiple ways. No longer is he a fallback option dependent on some stroke of fate.
Coach Matt LaFleur and his staff spent some time this offseason projecting what the speedy 5-10, 192-pound back could do for them and are giving him a chance to show it.
“He’s an explosive player,” LaFleur said. “He’s pretty elusive. We have (offensive coach) Adam Stenavich, who was his O-line coach for a year at San Jose State. He’s been in our ear about what type of playmaker ‘Swerve’ – as we like to call him – can be.
“We’re just going to continue to try to give him opportunities to see what he can do.”
Ervin has been on the field quite a bit despite Aaron Jones being the starter and Williams, A.J. Dillon and Dexter Williams all in line for snaps. Most notably, Ervin has been making plays in the passing game, where his speed and sharp cutting ability make him a tough cover.
In the 11-on-11 drills Monday, he caught passes out of the backfield and down the field, his best a long gain on a deep corner-route pass from rookie Jordan Love.
“I think there’s a great opportunity,” said Ervin, who is on his third team since entering the NFL as a fourth-round draft choice of the Houston Texans in 2016. “I’ve just got to go out there and work hard and continue to try to earn a spot.
“I think we’re all out here competing and that’s just the best part about being a part of the group of guys on this offense. Everyone’s competing.”
Ervin’s spot on the roster is secure if he can produce in the return game the way he did in just six games last season.
The Packers were sitting at minus-8 yards net in punt-return yards when they claimed Ervin off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars. On the fourth play of his debut against Washington, he put the Packers in positive territory with a 10-yard return.
Then he had three more 10-yard-plus returns, finishing with four returns for 51 yards.
In four regular-season games, he averaged 26.7 yards per kickoff return and 9.6 yards per punt return. He also had one carry for 10 yards and two catches for 11 yards in 17 snaps from scrimmage.
As Ervin noted, there is a lot of competition and, given the extensive play Jones received in both the running game and passing game, Ervin will have to carve out a specific role. But as LaFleur showed last year, Ervin has the skill to run the jet sweeps and curl routes out of the backfield that are typical in this kind of offense.
With a full offseason of learning the offense, he’s off and running at the start of camp.
“I think this offseason was a great opportunity to just learn and get the knowledge of different schemes and playbooks on special teams and offense,” Ervin said. “It was a great asset to be able to have a full offseason, even though it wasn’t in-person, but definitely a different experience than just being on a team toward the last couple games of the year.”
Back in the swing
For someone who just came off the COVID-19 reserve list, kicker Mason Crosby isn’t sitting around sipping coffee during the first two days of work.
Crosby was cleared off the list Saturday and then proceeded to attempt nine field goals, hitting eight from distances of 27 (twice), 30 (twice), 33, 36, 42 and 45 yards. His lone miss was wide left from 39 yards.
On Monday, Crosby was hammering away again. He attempted 10 this time around and appeared to hit on at least nine of them (there were no officials to signal whether they were good).
Deguara has earned a full plate
There was a real question about how rookies around the league would fare after a virtual-only offseason and truncated training camp, but after drafting tight end/H-back Josiah Deguara out of the University of Cincinnati, LaFleur immediately noted the rookie’s aptitude for digesting the playbook in the virtual space.
Deguara clearly earned enough trust from the coaches through those sessions and then during the ramp-up walkthroughs, as he has been an in-line blocker, running routes and in the backfield with Aaron Rodgers and Tim Boyle’s groups through the first two days of camp.
Deguara also has been given responsibilities on the field goal unit.
“That's a credit to him," LaFleur said, “and the more that he can show he can handle, we're going to continue to try to stress him in other ways and we'll just see how far he can go.”
Packers to move around for practice
Before training camp began, LaFleur said the team will hold a few practices inside Lambeau Field, and on Monday he noted that the team will conduct some parts of its other sessions inside the Don Hutson Center to help preserve Ray Nitschke Field.
Clark Hinkle Field was torn up in 2019 and renovated with an underground heating system and the same SIS Grass turf that's in Lambeau – and the hope is it can be ready for the regular season. Currently, though, it must remain untouched.
“It's more or less to save our field a little bit, particularly the first part of practice," LaFleur said. “That's 30 minutes off the grass because we need that for the duration of the season.”