BEREA: Browns rookie offensive lineman Cameron Erving garnered attention for all the wrong reasons in the first regular-season start of his NFL career.
Replacing injured left guard Joel Bitonio, Erving fell flat on his back when Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward bull-rushed him just before halftime of the Browns’ 30-9 defeat Nov. 15 at Heinz Field. Heyward then tackled running back Isaiah Crowell for a 5-yard loss.
Video of the play — a blooper for Erving but a highlight for Heyward — went viral online. Even the NFL’s official Twitter account passed it along with the caption, “Cam Heyward vs. Cam Erving: Advantage Heyward.”
Erving, though, insists he’s not scarred by his blunder.
“If nothing like that has ever happened to you, you have never played football, and that was my first game in the NFL,” Erving said after a recent practice. “I mean, I don’t take it lightly, and it’s not OK that it happened, but at the same time, you know wake up. It’s the first one. So all I can do is learn from it and move on.”
A chance to rebound is likely on the horizon for Erving, the 19th overall draft pick.
Bitonio was limited in practice Friday and Saturday with the sprained ankle he suffered Nov. 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals and might not be ready to play when the Browns (2-8) host the Baltimore Ravens (3-7) on Monday Night Football. Bitonio is listed as questionable for the prime-time AFC North matchup.
“If [Bitonio is] cleared 100 percent, ready to go, [he’ll start],” Browns coach Mike Pettine said Friday. “Now if it’s a situation where he’s functional but maybe not 100 percent, you would maybe consider having him up and available in case you needed him. Those are all decisions we’ll just wait and see where he is with it.
“If [Erving] has to start, we’re confident. That’s why we’re in no rush to push Joel back out there. Cam needs to play, and [the Ravens’ defense has] a good front seven. This will be a good opportunity for him. As I’ve said 100 times, there’s no substitute for actually playing.”
The implication is some lessons simply cannot be learned in practice.
For example, Erving believes he’ll be better after being steamrolled by Heyward.
“That’s going to be one of those things I look back and be like, ‘Dang, I was embarrassed,’?” Erving, 23, said. “But at the same time you’ve got to take a step back and [realize] this guy’s a professional, too, he just got paid a butt-load of money, he’s doing something right, and then all the people who comment and say something about it have never been in that situation.
“Of course, you don’t want that to happen to you. But that was one of those cases of bad footwork. I got stepped on a little bit, and he took advantage of it. He’s a good player and he took advantage, and he made the play that was there.”
The 6-foot-5, 313-pound Erving also surrendered a sack to Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt early in the third quarter. He drew two holding penalties, one of which negated a touchdown run by Crowell with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
“A few plays made my day look a lot worse than it was,” Erving said. “So I just want to go out there and eliminate those plays.
“I just want to put myself in better situations as far as footwork, work on my hands. I had two penalties, two holding calls, so I don’t take those lightly.”
There were also reasons for optimism after Erving’s starting debut.
“I saw a guy that was running around trying to be physical but not always doing the right thing,” Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “And to me, that’s kind of what you expect for an offensive lineman in his first start.
“I was glad to see when they tried to push Cam around, he fought back. He had a bad play before halftime where he got bull-rushed a little bit. He went the wrong way one time. So he had a couple mental mistakes. ... We can fix that. So I pulled Cam aside this week and told him, ‘Hey, Cam, we’ll get you right. Just keep working and keep playing with that excitement and physicality that you’re playing with.’?”
Pettine said he also has faith in Erving’s ability to rebound from “a handful of glaring mistakes.”
“He was very hard on himself after this game knowing some of the mistakes he made, and hopefully he falls in that category of, ‘Hey, I made a mistake. I’m not going to make it again,’?” Pettine said. “What we’re most pleased about is he played with an edge. He wanted to finish blocks, and I thought his energy and his focus, he was into it.”
Not only did Erving start for the first time, but he also played a new position. A center and left tackle at Florida State University, he worked at right guard and right tackle in the preseason, then made a brief appearance Oct. 25 against the St. Louis Rams at right guard. Left guard is the only spot at which he didn’t practice much until recently.
“I had never played a game at guard, let alone played at left guard. I had done all of the guard work at right,” Erving said. “Of course, it’s different, but I don’t make excuses for myself, and I don’t mean that in a negative way as far as how I played — I feel like I played pretty well — but you learn from everything that happens to you. Everything in that game, I took something positive from it regardless of what happened.”
So Erving considers himself more confident than before he faced Heyward and the Steelers.
“It gives me a boost knowing I have the experience,” he said. “You imagine and dream of playing in the NFL your whole life. Once you get here and me being on the back burner a little bit — I was chilling for the earlier part of the season — getting out there and just being able to prove to yourself that you can play in the NFL in that first game is big.
“That was one of the biggest things I feel like I accomplished. Yeah, I had a few minor errors, and there are definitely things you can learn from, but that was the biggest thing. Then moving forward, I know I can play. Now it’s just eliminating those mistakes.”
Other injury updates
The Browns ruled out cornerback Joe Haden (concussion), wide receivers Andrew Hawkins (concussion) and Taylor Gabriel (concussion) and defensive lineman Randy Starks (knee) for Monday.
Rookie outside linebacker Nate Orchard (groin) was added to the injury report as a limited participant in Saturday’s practice. He’s questionable to play Monday.
The Ravens listed wide receiver Marlon Brown (back), offensive left tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder), tight end Chase Ford (shoulder) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) as doubtful for Monday. Cornerback Shareece Wright (back) is questionable.