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Midseason switch to center boosts draft stock of Florida State’s Cameron Erving

Cameron Erving played defensive and offensive tackle before moving to center at Florida State.
Cameron Erving played defensive and offensive tackle before moving to center at Florida State. The Associated Press

When you see Florida State senior Cameron Erving in person, it’s hard not to see a prototypical offensive tackle. He’s 6 feet 5, 313 pounds with 34 1/8-inch-long arms that help steer pass rushers away from quarterbacks.

Left tackle is where Erving opened the 2014 season for the Seminoles, just like he had in 2013, when he served as star quarterback Jameis Winston’s blind-side protector and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, voted on by the Atlantic Coast Conference’s coaches and defensive coordinators.

The Seminoles started 2014 well enough, winning their first nine games before a Nov. 15 showdown against Miami, Fla.

But coach Jimbo Fisher was not fully satisfied with his team’s play at center, so he made a surprising and rare decision: He moved Erving, his All-ACC left tackle, to center in an attempt to solidify the interior of the Seminoles line.

“Initially he tried to talk about it,” Erving said. “But honestly, at the end of the day I was like ‘Coach, if you need me to move, I’ll do it.’”

So Erving made his first career start at center against the Hurricanes and never looked back. That’s where he played for Florida State’s last five games and made such an impression that he is universally considered to be the best center prospect in the NFL Draft and a potential first-round pick.

“Cam Erving’s tape at center is impressive,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay posted on Twitter during the NFL Combine. “Might be the best interior offensive lineman in the draft.”

You typically don’t see centers 6-5 or taller because it takes them longer to uncoil their arms into squatty, stronger interior linemen, which causes them to occasionally lose the leverage battle. That will always been a concern with Erving, in addition to the fact he could stand to show more nastiness as a run blocker and has a habit of not always churning his feet through blocks.

Yet, Erving’s natural feel for combination blocking on zone-running plays — which the Chiefs run a lot — was easy to see.

His agility, which allowed him to play in space at tackle, makes it difficult for interior linemen to outquick him in pass protection, where he often keeps his head on a swivel against blitzes.

And his combination of size and power allow him to anchor against the bull rush, as he did one time against Oregon’s Arik Armstead, who stands 6 feet 7 and 292 pounds is projected as a first-round pick.

“It’s a lot harder than it looks, but he made it look easy,” Florida State guard Tre’ Jackson said. “The guy can do anything he wants to, really.”

When asked to elaborate why, Jackson credited Erving’s natural ability.

““Cam is probably the most athletic offensive lineman I’ve ever played with,” Jackson said, “and he’s a big dude.”

But that does not mean Erving relied solely on those gifts to get the job done. At center, Erving also made the line calls, which are the adjustment of assignments based on defensive alignments.

“I knew what they meant at tackle,” Erving said of the calls. “So just switching positions, it was pretty simple.”

Erving does not care what position he plays in the NFL, though there is a difference between to the two.

“At tackle, things develop a little slower, although you have a lot of great athletes out there on the edge,” Erving said. “When I was at center, things happened real fast and in close proximity, so you’d have to react. Things happened a lot faster inside.”

That applies to guard, as well. Erving has never played there but has the potential, especially given how quickly he took to center. That versatility will appeal to teams seeking interior line help, like the Chiefs.

“When I’ve been in meetings, they’ll ask me about center or tackle to see how well I take in the defense,” Erving said of his combine experience. “I don’t know exactly what certain teams have in store for me, but regardless of where I go, I’ll always be the same way in doing whatever the team needs.”

Erving did not hurt himself at the combine as he was among the top five performers at his position in the bench press (30 reps at 225 pounds), broad jump (112 inches) and three-cone drills (7.48 seconds).

The bench press is a measure of how hard players have been working in the weight room during college, while the broad jump measures the power and explosion of a player’s lower body and the three-cone drill shows the flexibility in a player’s hips.

“I definitely did well,” Erving said. “I’m very self-critical and I love pushing myself and competing against myself. So I always feel like there’s something I could have done better. I feel like I could have done a few things better. But as far as the results, I feel like I did OK.”

Erving says he has a proven track record of doing what’s best for the team. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Erving’s appeared in 13 games as a defensive tackle.

“Honestly, when I made the switch a lot of people asked me how I felt about it in terms of the NFL,” Erving said. “That wasn’t on my mind. I mean, I’ve always been the type of person that does what’s best for the team.

“When I moved from defense (after freshman season) that was what was best for the team … as far as moving from tackle to center, it’s what the team needed at the time. So I did it.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

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