Arguably the biggest surprise of Kansas City Chiefs preseason thus far has been watching Cameron Erving become the team’s staple at the left guard position. All offseason, we envisioned this position being up for grabs and it seemed like a safe assumption that Bryan Witzmann and Parker Ehinger were the only serious candidates.
From the start of training camp, however, it’s Erving that appears to have a stranglehold on the position.
Before he was another failed Cleveland Browns first-round pick, he was a standout tackle and center at Florida State. I reviewed his college film and saw a guy that could do a little bit of everything. I had some concerns about the fact that he never physically dominated NCAA competition. He was more of a wall-off blocker rather than a mauler, but he looked solid overall to my eye.
Erving theoretically has the feet to be a tackle and the athleticism to be a center or a pulling guard. But, early on, his Browns career was defined by a handful of comically bad GIFs. Erving looked seriously overmatched against powerful NFL defensive linemen.
When Brett Veach sent a fifth-round pick to the Browns for Erving, Cleveland fans were excited and Kansas City fans were confused. Arrowhead Pride’s film review confirmed that his technique needed a complete makeover. Watching Erving as a pro, it’s clear that he has struggled at times with speed, power, technique, picking up stunts, anchoring...nearly every aspect of playing on the offensive line. He does appear to have good upper body strength, length and quickness, but lacks lower body strength and balance.
His biggest asset has always been versatility, something that Andy Reid values in his offensive linemen. With the departure of Zach Fulton, the Chiefs needed to find another guy that could play significant snaps at multiple positions... essentially a sixth starter. So, if Erving could develop in his second NFL chance, there certainly will be a role for him.
“That’s one of the things that makes me valuable – being able to be versatile,” Erving said. “For a while, I took it as a curse but it’s been a blessing. Just being able to learn all the ins-and-outs of each position and over time being able to just focus in on one thing a little bit more and go here or there if I’m needed. It’s definitely been great to be versatile. It took a while to learn how to be versatile. I mean, I could go in and step in and do something. Now it’s just becoming a little easier.”
Prior to training camp this year, the Chiefs saw Erving primarily as a swing tackle. When he got to St. Joseph in 2018, he was the next man up at center when Mitch Morse wasn’t ready to go. Now, he’s getting all of the first-team snaps at left guard.
So, what changed? How did we arrive at this point, where Erving is the presumptive starter over two reasonably promising players who have worked at the position in recent years? Could it be that he’s finally found a home, both with the Kansas City Chiefs, and at the left guard postion?
Erving alluded to the point that getting a fresh start, and sticking to one position has given him a chance to succeed.
“My whole life I’ve wanted to be great,” Erving said. “I wanted to be the best at what I did and now I have an opportunity to do that.”
So, how is it going so far? The sample size is too small for a meaningful film review, but our own Matt Lane gave us a few plays on his Twitter timeline from Friday’s game in Atlanta.
Face plants plagued Erving in college too. He can move so elegantly then literally just fall out of the blue. Limits some extra yards here easily. pic.twitter.com/pjcJcATpUc— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 18, 2018
Before the Patomic Bomb, the Chiefs actually ran a Verticals concept and it worked then too. The CF S has to chose between Kelce and Conley, looks to be more to Conley, which will leave one very open. Mahomes has to check underneath because Erving couldn't get his hands on the DT pic.twitter.com/IBZGD1KSFv— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 18, 2018
Cam Erving doesn't give up a sack here but WOOF. No depth on his set and doesn't drop his outside foot at all so he's square to the goalpost. Even worse, tries to punch with his feet still moving and instantly loses hand control and allowing half man. Consistent issues from W1. pic.twitter.com/JHtK1VrmXS— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 18, 2018
From what we’ve seen so far, the Chiefs’ Erving is a lot like the Browns’ Erving. He’s spending too much time on the turf, and not demonstrating improved technique or anchor strength in pass protection.
That’s not to say that everything has been bad for Erving thus far in 2018. There have been several snaps that would indicate he has some ability to move people in the run game.
Chiefs come out of the gate mixing up their "norm" in terms of blocking scheme. A HB dive behind pretty straight forward man blocking, good combo by Morse and Erving then working to the second lvl. Would like to see Hunt follow Sherman but assume Fish's block effected decision. pic.twitter.com/FcVbkLPQyw— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 20, 2018
You have to appreciate the effort as Erving hustled to get to his spot and finished the block. In the clip below, Erving shows that when he’s delivering the punch instead of taking it, he can be a difference maker.
The play before the "illegal formation" should be a TD off the Inside Zone. Wylie does a good job of helping his backside gap then getting to the 2nd lvl. Erving combos with Morse to set him up then knocks back the LB trying to slip in. Hunt's gotta see that one. pic.twitter.com/RopfwbRJcV— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 20, 2018
Clearly the Chiefs have a plan and some of the best football minds in the league, and they certainly are operating with a lot more information than we are.
They see how Erving conducts himself in practice, in the film room, and in the locker room. The Chiefs see some potential in No. 75. They like his ability to move in space, his punch and his mastery of the playbook. Or, they really didn’t like what they saw in Bryan Witzmann, Parker Ehinger and others who they’ve tried at the position.
Perhaps the team is using this preseason as a prolonged audition just to see what they have in Erving before deciding on his future?
Whatever the logic, Reid is investing a great deal of first-team snaps (not to mention the fifth-round pick) in Erving.
Will it pay off with improved performance over time? Can Erving at least be a competent piece of a competent offensive line?
At this point, there are still more questions than answers.