CARLISLE, Pa. -- This may just be happenstance, but when Washington Redskins rookie Ricky Ervins went looking for his customary number 34 during the first day of rookie training camp, he found it in the custody of free-agent safety Terry Hoage.
So he donned the number 32 in the Redskins' burgundy and gold, which has little significance until you learn that Ervins was a tailback at Southern California.
A tailback? At USC? Wearing 32? Excuse me, but didn't O.J. Simpson start out this way?
"It's great that I have 32, because I get to live out one of my fantasies and be O.J. Simpson," said Ervins. "That's a great number."
The Redskins are hopeful Ervins, their third-round selection in this year's draft, will live up to the promise attached to that number.
"He comes from a great background. He's got a good pedigree for him coming out of where he came from," said coach Joe Gibbs. "He did a heckuva job there and we think he can do the same thing here."
If Ervins duplicates his USC experience, the Redskins will have something impressive.
The 5-foot-8, 200-pound back ran for 1,395 yards and was named Most Valuable Player of the Rose Bowl in his junior year. Ervins also was named as a preseason all Pac-10 selection before his senior year.
But that season was marred by an ankle injury that forced Ervins out of all but five games last year. Even so, he rushed for 393 yards in 90 carries, a 4.4 average, and four touchdowns.
If yesterday's two practices at Biddle Field were any indication, Ervins has risen above any lingering doubts about the ankle, as ** he darted and weaved through the secondary, running and catching proficiently.
That sort of versatility is nothing new for Ervins, who, as a junior, broke Marcus Allen's school record for pass receptions by a running back. He is looking forward to making catches out of Washington's backfield.
"Basically, the same way we ran our offense there, with a back coming out of the backfield, is the way we do it here," said Ervins. "It's good to come to a team that throws the ball a lot to its backs."
The conventional wisdom has it that Ervins would be a perfect third-down back in the Redskins' one-back set, especially with such veterans as Earnest Byner, Gerald Riggs and newly acquired John Settle getting a lot of running work.
Ervins is not opposed to that notion.
"I see my role as learning the offense, from the veterans and when it's time to step in as either third-down back or first-down back or whatever, I would be ready because I will have learned," said Ervins.
But the Redskins, or at least the top brass, isn't quite ready to relegate the rookie to anything yet.
"We didn't draft him to be a third-down back. We think that he could eventually start in the NFL," said general manager Charley Casserly.
"We think he's got a real shot. He's a really explosive guy," said Gibbs. "He's bright, he seems to have a good attitude about everything. He's worked really hard since we've had him here."
For now, though, the biggest adjustment for Ervins, who has equally divided his 22 years between Indiana and California, is to get acclimated to his new surroundings.
"The East Coast is crazy," said Ervins. "One minute is like this [sunny and dry] and the next minute, it's raining. It was sort of like this in Indiana, but in California, it's hot all year-round. But I'm glad to be here. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
The Redskins signed their top draft choice, ending a half-day holdout by defensive tackle Bobby Wilson.
Wilson, a 6-2, 275-pounder who was an All-Big Ten defensive lineman at Michigan State, said he was "happy and overwhelmed" at his contract, which was estimated to be in the $650,000-a-year range.