GREEN BAY – The Packers are still waiting for the return game to provide some help in 2019.
The lack of results to date isn't due to a lack of trying.
New waiver acquisition Tyler Ervin, a fourth-year running back who is slated to take over return duties right away Sunday vs. Washington, will become the fifth different player to return a kickoff and the fourth different one to return a punt this year for Green Bay.
Thus far, on 26 kickoff returns, the Packers have just two runbacks longer than 27 yards. Punt return is a greater struggle, with a long of only three yards and minus-8 total return yards on the season, plus one lost fumble, in just nine attempts.
With kicker Mason Crosby having a strong year, punter JK Scott working his way out of a midseason slump, and the coverage units not allowing an explosive return for several weeks, the return game is the priority to get squared away on special teams as the Packers head into the stretch run.
Bringing in Ervin was not an admission the returner has been the only problem, but the Packers like the skill set of a veteran who has returned both punts and kicks for four years now in the NFL. Meanwhile, the rest of the return units will be pushed to improve.
"I think we've got to block a lot better to get the return going," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "And then it's just sometimes you gotta make a guy miss as well."
That's one of the first things special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga noticed about Ervin, who played three years for Houston (2016-18) before joining Jacksonville this year. "Elusive" was the word LaFleur used to describe him, and the Packers are hoping he can provide a spark.
The rest of the units have to do their part, too, and Mennenga said he does see players improving on their blocking techniques even if it hasn't shown up in the end results yet. One kickoff return by Tremon Smith against the Giants last week was close to breaking open.
Ervin has no touchdown returns in his career, but he did have a 57-yard punt return as a rookie, and Mennenga believes as a veteran player he should have no trouble stepping in and performing right away.
"He's got experience running a lot of things we've run," Mennenga said. "He'll be ready to go. You show him where it's designed to go and get a feel for the blocking and he'll be fine."
For a player getting a brand new opportunity, Ervin projected a sense of calm this week as he worked to get himself up to speed. Sure he'd love to make a great first impression on his new team, but he knows trying too hard isn't the way to go.
"I'm just playing my game," he said. "I try not to worry about too much other than that.
"It's just a matter of making good decisions back there and trying to make the play when it's there, try not to force anything."
Ervin also has postseason experience from his rookie year with the Texans. Back then, he happened to miss what was the lone opportunity in his career to play at Lambeau Field, until now. He was inactive for the Week 13 game in 2016 due to a rib injury.
"It's always been a dream of mine to come play at Lambeau," he said. "So I'm excited, ready to get after it."