Considering the number of casualties that the Cleveland Browns suffered along the offensive line this free agency period, with both starting center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz agreeing to contracts elsewhere, there is a lot riding on the rapid development of Cameron Erving, who was drafted in the first round by the organization’s previous regime in 2015.
While not an immediate injection into the starting lineup, he was put in that role during two separate two-game stints last season, both of which had an overlap with the two games against which the Browns played the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Starting at left guard in the first occasion, it was his great misfortune that in his first start he had to line up across from Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh’s starting right defensive end and a Pro Bowl talent who recorded seven sacks last season.
You may recall one particular snap in which Heyward bulled right through the 19th-overall draft pick, knocking him on his back side in order to make an easy tackle for loss just before halftime. It was a rude awakening for Erving and a direct exposure to the sort of talent level he will be facing on a weekly basis.
It would be fair to point out, however, that Erving’s natural position is center, and his playing time—including his four starts—all came at left guard or right guard. While he was drafted with the notion in mind that he would be able to line up anywhere along the interior, it would be difficult to extrapolate from his appearances at guard how he will play at center.
Many rookies naturally struggle when tasked to play a significant amount during their first year in the league, and Erving played roughly 400 snaps in 2015. The Browns have a history of plug-and-play philosophy along their offensive line, however, with both Mack and Schwartz, among others, being instant 16-game starters in their rookie seasons.
Another one of those immediate rookie contributors was 2014 second-round draft pick Joel Bitonio, who also started 16 games as a rookie, but was limited to 10 games last season, which is how Erving got two of his starts.
The third-year guard knows that Erving had a rough rookie season, but said that he likes his competitiveness and determination to “prove that he was a first-round draft pick for a reason”. He said that Erving recognizes where he needs to improve and that “he set his mind right this offseason to come and make those changes and really try and fight and prove himself this year”.
According to the above cited article, the former first-round draft pick gave up five sacks and 24 hurries, which is a significant amount for a guard, and for the number of snaps that he played. He was clearly out of his depth during his rookie season.
But Erving will not get an opportunity to get another piece of his namesake in Heyward until November when the Browns play host to the Steelers in Week 11. The two teams will also close the season in the regular season finale, as they did last year, and Cleveland had better hope their investment in him pays off.