GREEN BAY – When the Packers claimed Tyler Ervin off waivers last December, most onlookers naturally figured the move was made to improve Green Bay's return units.
While that may have been true, offensive line coach Adam Stenavich felt it could be so much more.
Certainly Ervin would add something to Green Bay's special teams, and he did, but Stenavich also saw firsthand what the 5-foot-10, 192-pound running back could do with the ball in his hands on offense during their time together at San Jose State.
Stenavich's first year as San Jose State's O-line coach in 2015 coincided with Ervin's historic senior season in which he shattered the program's single-season record with 2,637 all-purpose yards and scored 17 touchdowns.
So when the opportunity came for the Packers to pick up the veteran last year, Stenavich made it known to Head Coach Matt LaFleur how strongly he felt about Ervin's offensive potential.
"(Stenavich) has been in our ear about what type of playmaker 'Swerve,' as we like to call him, can be," said LaFleur last month. "We're just going to continue to try to give him opportunities to see what he can do."
Ervin racked up 62 all-purpose yards on 22 snaps (14 offense, eight special teams) in the Packers' 43-34 win over Minnesota a week ago – and lined up everywhere to do it.
He was in the backfield, the slot, and split out wide. The Packers used Ervin on pre-motions and misdirection, with the fifth-year running back breaking an end-around out of the backfield for 21 yards to move Green Bay back into Minnesota territory in the fourth quarter.
It's given Stenavich flashbacks to the havoc "Swerve" caused back in the Mountain West Conference, catapulting Ervin to being a fourth-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2016.
It's been a rollercoaster ride for Ervin since then. He spent parts of three seasons in Houston, touching the ball only 19 times in his first 25 NFL games outside of kickoff and punt returns. Ervin then spent time in Baltimore and Jacksonville before landing with the Packers, much to Stenavich's delight.
"I was really excited once I heard that he was coming here because I know he's an explosive player," Stenavich said. "He's a blue-collar kid that just works hard and will do anything to help the team."
Ervin, who rose to prominence after reviving the Packers' kickoff and punt teams late last year, also returned the free kick for 18 yards on Sunday following Jaire Alexander's sack of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins for a safety.
Due to the abbreviated offseason and the fact Green Bay hadn't recorded a safety in nearly six years, special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga estimated the Packers practiced free kicks roughly three or four times during training camp but Ervin still made it work.
Earlier this offseason, Ervin said no team has utilized his skillset the way Green Bay has. As pleased as Ervin must have felt when he saw his presence reflected in the 2020 playbook, he was most excited about re-signing with the Packers in March after bouncing around for a few seasons.
There has been some debate whether Ervin is a running back or receiver these days, but the 26-year-old playmaker doesn't care what label he's given as long as he's on the field.
"I was just trying to fulfill a need and do whatever the coaches asked me to do," Ervin said. "I don't know if it was an exact time or when we first started talking about it. The transition is just going out there and playing ball, whether it's receiver or running back. For me, I'm kind of thinking they're two of the same as long as you're confident and willing to learn."
As Stenavich forecasted, the early returns on Ervin have been promising. He's picked up 87 yards on his first 10 offensive touches (including playoffs last January) and has become a weapon on Green Bay's special teams, averaging 25.4 yards on seven regular-season kickoff returns and 8.8 yards on 12 punts.
As the Packers move into the 2020 regular season, they're hopeful Ervin will present an omnipresent threat to defenses operating out of a backfield also consisting of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and rookie AJ Dillon.
"Once we got him, there was a lot of positive energy about him coming into the building," said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett of Ervin. "Then when we threw him in there – at running back, up on the line for the sweeps and the wide receiver positions – we just saw he has the ability to do a lot of different things.
"He's quick, he's fast, he's tough, smart – all those things are the things you look for in a player."