The high hopes for San Jose State University's Tyler Ervin last season ended quickly when he left Spartan Stadium with an ankle injury after just two carries in the Sacramento State opener.
The multi-purpose threat definitely was going to be a weapon when the Spartans would be in kick return mode. After all, three career kickoff returns for touchdowns in 50 tries were among the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Then, there was the possibility of adding punt return duties, too.
With a clean slate, the Colton (Calif.) High grad is looking forward contributing in a variety of roles. At least on offense, it will be from a slot receiver position instead of at running back where he was his first two full seasons.
"Fall is going pretty good. During the summer, I did a lot of work with the slots (receivers) with Coach Malley. He's been coaching me up really good and getting me used to playing fast at the slot position. So far, I'm getting a lot of good reps in this fall," said the 6-foot junior who is incorporating the mental side of the position as much as the physical demands needed to succeed.
"You have to know more concepts and a few more details, like getting out of routes, stick-and-stay and things like that. Also, you have to know more (defensive) coverages and read the coverages as well.
"It's a change, but it still is football. "
In 2013, San José State appeared more concerned with possession and ball security than aiming for momentum and a field position with the big return. The Spartans chose to return only 10 of 48 punts. Co-captain Noel Grigsby's 22-yard return in the Sacramento State win was the longest of the season and accounted for nearly half of the team's total punt return yardage. Ervin could change that the first time he fields a punt.
"I'm taking reps at punt return as well as kick return and I'll see how it goes. I've had a lot of reps at punt return the entire time I've been here. That's one thing I feel pretty comfortable with as well as kick returns," Ervin said.
A number of players are getting opportunities to audition for the return roles. One of them is sophomore Cleveland Wallace III, a University of Washington transfer who is eligible to play in 2014. Wallace had return duties when he played at San José's Oak Grove High, fielded punts in practice as a freshman, but was nit asked to handle one in a game.
"(Fielding punts) It's going well. I really started doing that at U-W. When I came here, they (the coaching staff) noticed I was able to return, because a couple of our coaches were there (Washington). They put me back there and I just catch punts right now," Wallace said.
Competing for playing time as a cornerback, too, the lanky 5-foot-11 defender seems to prefer the opportunity to catch punts over kickoffs.
"I rather say punts, because there is a lot more space. On kickoffs, there are people running down at you with the intent to knock you out. On a punt, you have a few people who are normally down there just blocking. I just figure there is a lot more space there," said Wallace thoughtfully.
Your chance to see Ervin and Wallace work as return specialists and possibly against each other during scrimmage plays is Saturday, August 9, when the Spartans hold their first of two preseason scrimmages. The practice field with the new natural grass turf north of Spartan Stadium is the site of the scrimmage. Start time is 4:15 p.m. There is no admission charge.
Season tickets featuring the $299 (four reserved tickets & four Bill Walsh bobbleheads) 4-PACK for the Spartans' five games in Spartan Stadium are available and are on sale. Use the promo code 4pack.
Call 408-924-SJTX or visit www.sjsuspartans.com to order your tickets.