On-the-job training

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- There's nothing quite like watching a big play unfold, Cameron Erving said. There's an excitement, a pride that comes from springing a running back for a long run or stoning a defensive end just long enough for EJ Manuel to unleash a bomb.

The real prize, however, comes after the celebration.

"It's also good to be able to get off the field," Erving said.

This has been a season of transitions and adjustments for the sophomore left tackle, who moved from the defensive line this spring, and among the chief concerns has been a sizable increase in the number of snaps he plays each game.

It's a mental thing, Erving said. Finding a reserve of energy to get through so many reps has taken time, and he's still getting used to all that his new job entails.

"It's getting a little easier, but at the same time there's still a lot to learn," he said.

The reality of life on the offensive line was never ignored by Erving, but pragmatism was overwhelmed by optimism this spring.

A few months removed from an ugly season for FSU's offensive line, Jimbo Fisher and line coach Rick Trickett thought they'd found a solution to their woes when they plucked Erving from the defensive front and installed him at left tackle. The early results offered ample evidence of their genius.

Throughout spring practice, the raves poured in, and Erving was designated Florida State's next great left tackle before he'd even played a game. All-ACC defensive end Brandon Jenkins admitted he struggled to match up with Erving, and veteran linemen such as Bryan Stork suggested the redshirt sophomore had the potential to revitalize Florida State's offense. The sky was the limit.

Through nine games of the regular season, however, reality has proved impossible for Erving to ignore.

"It's so different from being on defense," Erving said. "It's a lot more reps, a lot more snaps. When we're on defense, you have other people that can make the play if you miss it. If I miss it, the play is shot. I just had to get that, had to learn to get past mistakes and keep going forward."

The adjustments have been slow at times, and too much of Erving's progress has had to come from learning on the job. But the funny thing is, for all his intermittent struggles, he hasn't let go of those early prognostications of greatness.

It's all part of the mantra preached by his coach.

"[Trickett] coaches the player he knows you can be, not where you're at," Erving said. "Success isn't glorified. It's just expected."

That has meant Trickett has been particularly hard on Erving at times, but the tough lessons are paying dividends.

When the grades came in following a dominant performance against Boston College a few weeks ago, Erving graded out at 82 percent. It was the lowest of any of FSU's starting offensive linemen, but it was also the highest mark of the season for Erving.

Whether that marks success or failure is a sliding scale, but Erving thinks it's a little of both. Progress doesn't come from avoiding mistakes, he said, but from learning from them.

"It was hard, but as the season progressed, it's gotten easier to process and move on and let the mistakes be over," Erving said. "If you dwell on them, that just creates more bad plays."

That was a struggle at first, Erving said. Those early games included obvious mistakes -- but mistakes that probably were to be expected from a player just six months removed from playing defense. But Erving's expectations were high, and that allowed mistakes to snowball at times.

"I think he did [struggle] from a standpoint of putting pressure on himself, and he's such a conscientious kid and he never wants to let anybody down," Fisher said.

Those bad plays have become fewer and farther between, and Erving has learned to keep them in perspective. While he hasn't exactly reached those lofty heights predicted this spring, he has become a consistent performer at a position that was a sieve just a season ago.

It's a group effort on the line, and Erving hasn't been the lone productive addition. The improvement across the board has been striking.

A year ago, Florida State allowed 40 sacks -- the most in the ACC. This season, it has given up just 11. Last season, the Seminoles' running game was awful, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Now, FSU is second in the nation with an average per carry of 6.07 yards. In 2011, Florida State scored 20 rushing touchdowns in 13 games. This season, the Noles have 29 rushing TDs in just nine games.

That success has helped breed confidence, even if the growing pains are evident from time to time.

Before each Florida State drive this season, Erving and fellow first-year tackle Menelik Watson approach Manuel on the sideline and offer encouragement. They'll pat him on the back and promise no defender will touch him. They'll repeat the same promise again and again throughout the game.

"That's what you want from your O-linemen," Manuel said. "I trust them. A sack may happen here and there, but overall, they've done a great job this year."

Erving will offer similar promises this week, but he also knows the task continues to get tougher.

Virginia Tech's defensive front has produced only mediocre results thus far, but the Hokies had one of the best units in the nation last season. Bud Foster's defense is likely to bring a heavy pass rush, and protecting Manuel and quieting the raucous crowd at Lane Stadium will provide a challenge unlike any Erving and his unit have faced this season.

It's not surprising that he's looking forward to it.

"Anybody who lines up against me, I'm looking forward to," Erving said. "They have a great group of guys, and it's one of the better D-lines we'll go up against this year because they're veterans, but I'm looking forward to the next game because it's the next game."