WESTFIELD, Ind. — The Panthers brought veteran tackle Cameron Erving in this offseason for a few reasons, including his athleticism, his ability to play multiple positions, particular schematic fits, and the fact he's been in enough situations with enough different people that he knows stuff.
So when he was about to head off the field Thursday night after the first day of joint practice with the Colts, he also knew what was coming, since head coach Matt Rhule crawled them afterward.
"Of course he's upset. We're all upset," Erving said. "We don't take this lightly. We have to take every rep as if it's the last one you're going to get, the one that's going to decide whether you make this team or not.
"So we're going to come out with more intensity tomorrow, but it's a good thing for us to see."
The problems on offense for the Panthers on Thursday night were multiple, and Rhule began by singling out his receivers, lest anyone think that performance was all the fault of the quarterbacks. His offensive linemen didn't necessarily have a fun time of it in one-on-ones against the Colts defense, but there were enough problems that they didn't make Rhule's list. Besides, even though the drills are live, it's more of a "thud" practice, so offensive linemen aren't cutting or finishing blocks, the same way ball-carriers aren't being taken to the ground if it can be helped.
Erving knows, though.
"It was our first chance to see what we've been working on since OTAs, but we found out we have to come out with more intensity," he said. "It was decent, but we're holding ourselves to a higher standard. We know we can do better than what we practiced today."
Of course, the state of the offensive line has been a question all offseason, and it's still a question entering Sunday's preseason opener against the Colts. It doesn't appear the starters will play much, if at all (the joint practices here and next week against the Ravens would effectively replace their game action), so the construction of the starting five is a project that will take a little more time.
Rhule likes to refer to finding his "best five" linemen and then sorting them into positions, and at the moment, they consider Erving among that group. They've fiddled with right tackle Taylor Moton on the left side, but that could also create a situation where they reduce the talent level at two positions rather than one, since Moton is so much more comfortable on the right from spending most of his career there. Basically, they trust Erving on the left more at the moment than they do the potential Moton replacements on the right, so Erving has become the default setting for the line.
It also appears that the coaching staff is more comfortable with Erving on the left than the community at large is, because they saw specific traits in the former Browns first-rounder they believe in (and they believed in him enough to agree to a deal with him on the first day of the free agency negotiation period).
Earlier in camp, Rhule was asked about other linemen, and came back to Erving unsolicited to say: "Cam Erving's just really done a nice job so far."
"He's really athletic, so on the wide zones he's run well," Rhule continued. "His set, he's using his hands the way we want. He's a really smart, intelligent guy.
"His main thing has just been staying healthy in his career so far. He's made a commitment to stretching and keeping his weight up. I think his athleticism is really showing."
The soon-to-be-29-year-old Erving acknowledged that finding his ideal weight has been tricky in his career. When he came into the league, he was between 315 and 320 pounds. When he was traded to the Chiefs, he got down as low as 285, and the results weren't great for a guy whose job is to push other large people around. Now he's back to between 305 and 308, where he said he feels more solid and comfortable.
"I feel like that's a good playing weight for me; it's better for me to keep myself there," Erving said. "It's just feel. I've played at a lot of different weights in my career, and I just want to be sure that I put myself in the best possible position to be successful this season.
"It just allows me to be more powerful, get in on blocks and move people more. Just the game for an offensive lineman, it's a lot, it's a big part of the game."
Understanding his body was a big part of Erving's commitment this offseason. But he also understands what's coming when Rhule meets with the team about Thursday's practice, and what's in store today.
"Honestly, just as an entire team, we have to come out with more intensity and more fire," Erving said. "We didn't match their energy today overall. And everybody on this team will say that, and we know we have to work on it."
View photos from Thursday's joint practice with the Colts at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind.