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Swervin' Ervin proving to be more than just a returner

Matt LaFleur finding ways to use newest Packers running back’s skill set on offense

RB Tyler Ervin
RB Tyler Ervin

GREEN BAY – Aaron Jones was one of the first aboard the Swervin' Ervin hype train.

Four years prior to the two being united in the Packers' running backs room, Jones was paging through the top college rushers to see how his numbers at the University of Texas-El Paso stacked up against the rest of the country.

Near the top of the list was a back he wasn't very familiar with – San Jose State's Tyler Ervin, who had racked up 2,489 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns during his final two years with the Spartans. Ervin's 202.5 all-purpose yards per game as a senior ranked second nationally in 2015.

"I'm like, 'Who is this guy?' I never heard of him," Jones said. "So I checked him out, San Jose State, and I've kind of been following him ever since then."

Jones felt drawn to Ervin because, much like himself, the 5-foot-10, 177-pound playmaker was an undersized running back from a smaller Division I Football Bowl Subdivision program.

Houston drafted Ervin in the fourth round (119th overall) in 2016 – thanks in part to a 4.41-second time in the 40 and 39-inch vertical at the NFL Scouting Combine – but he touched the ball only 19 times on offense in 25 regular-season games in his first three seasons.

While many draftniks felt Ervin possessed Darren Sproles-like qualities that could make him a useful gadget player on offense, his responsibilities rarely veered from special teams.

Ervin served primarily as the Texans' returner for the first 2½ years of his NFL career before he was released on Nov. 7, 2018.

Signed to Baltimore's practice squad a week later, he went to camp with the Ravens this past summer and was released again during final cut-downs. Claimed off waivers by Jacksonville, the fourth-year running back played exclusively on special teams until he was released for the second consecutive November.

The Packers, needing a lift on their return units, put in a claim for Ervin. Beginning with a strong debut against Washington in which he returned four punts for 51 yards, Ervin quickly gained the trust of Head Coach Matt LaFleur and the coaching staff.

To further the point, the Packers recently began scripting plays here and there to get the 26-year-old playmaker on the field in packages calling for pre-snap motions and sweeps. In 31 offensive snaps, Ervin has amassed 46 total yards on five touches.

"It kind of happened organically," LaFleur said. "You watch him and watch his progression and see how easy he's picking things up and how fast he's learning the offense. You start expanding that role. He's a unique talent because he has some of that same versatility as Aaron Jones has."

In five seasons at San Jose State, Ervin played running back, slot receiver, cornerback and return specialist. He graduated as the program's career record holder with 6,146 all-purpose yards. 

Surprisingly, Ervin admits, no NFL team experimented with incorporating him into an offensive game plan the way LaFleur has during the running back's first month in Green Bay.

"I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to kind of showcase what I can do," Ervin said. "It's just been a blast with the guys because they feed off my energy and I feed off their energy every day. We're just going to continue to work hard and prepare as we would for the next game."

Through it all, Ervin has worked to keep a sunny disposition about things. Since the day he arrived in Green Bay, Ervin kept telling himself, "I'm coming in here and giving my best effort." Eventually, if he stayed the course, he couldn't be denied any longer.

Now, he's preparing to play in Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, who boast one of the NFL's deepest running-back rooms with Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Kyle Juszczyk.

The Packers feel they've built their own multi-faceted backfield attack with Jones, Jamaal Williams, Ervin and fullback Danny Vitale, who practiced Wednesday after missing the last two games with a knee injury and an illness.

In last Sunday's 28-23 win over Seattle in the NFC Divisional playoff, Ervin picked up 25 rushing yards on two carries in addition to continuing his exploits on punt returns. Like Jones, Ervin has even lined up as a receiver here and there.

After gaining an appreciation for Ervin's game a few years ago, Jones understands what the fourth-year veteran brings to the Packers' offense.

"Even more lightning," Jones said. "That guy is super-fast. You give it to him around the edge and you've seen he can carry it up the middle as well. He just brings another weapon to this offense. He can stretch the field as well with his speed. … We are happy to have him."

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