David Meggett took the NFL by surprise three years ago scooting 62 yards with a short circle pass in his New York Giants debut against the Washington Redskins. No sooner had the 5-foot-7 dynamo from Towson State crossed the goal line than the rest of the league went shopping for a little back just like him.
The San Francisco 49ers made 5-9 Dexter Carter a first-round pick in the next draft. Atlanta did likewise with 5-7 Steve Broussard.
Meggett, a Pro Bowl player as a rookie, was emulated, but not duplicated.
Three years later, the Redskins would like to return the favor. When they renew hostilities with the Giants Sunday night in the Meadowlands, they will spring their version of the "little back."
Except that Ricky Ervins, at 5-7 and a very solid 200 pounds, is no little back.
"He's short, not small," said Don Breaux, the Redskins' runningbacks coach. "He's very well put together. He's strong, like Meggett."
Meggett is 20 pounds lighter than Ervins. And even though the Giants are trying to find more ways to use his talents, Meggett isn't projected into the role of featured back.
Ervins is -- if not now, then sometime in the not-too-distant future. What he has in common with Meggett is the ability to produce big plays.
Ervins, a third-round draft pick last spring, broke in big two Sundays ago when he rumbled to 179 all-purpose yards in a 42-17 victory over Cleveland. He got his opportunity when Earnest Byner, the starting running back, reinjured the knuckle on his right ring finger. In the second half alone, Ervins bolted for 133 rushing yards, averaging 10.2 a carry. He had touchdown runs of 12 and 65 yards.
Breaux said the Redskins had wanted to use Ervins as the team's third-down back earlier in the season. But a leg injury scratched him from a Week 2 game at Dallas and his progress was blunted.
"We were concerned he wasn't getting enough reps against the blitz in the preseason," Breaux said. "Things change on the move. It's a matter of him getting experience and confidence against all these [defensive] looks. Our only blocking [at running back] is in pass protection. I'd have to label him untried, really."
Ervins admitted he has had some difficulty picking up blitzes. Against Cleveland, he let one blitzer nail quarterback Mark Rypien. But he produced enough big plays, including a 46-yard kickoff return, that the Redskins will expedite the learning process.
"What's going to come out of this, I'm not sure," said Breaux. "But he'll definitely be a guy who can come in and give us quickness, a spurt, and maybe a change of pace.
"I think, overall, you'll see more of him. He'll start one of the drives. He and Earnest will take it."
Breaux, in fact, doesn't compare Ervins to Meggett or Carter or vTC Broussard. He likens the former Southern Cal star to more productive runners like Byner, Buffalo's Thurman Thomas, Cincinnati's James Brooks and Detroit's Barry Sanders.
"They're in the 5-9, 5-10 category," Breaux said. "He's versatile like they are with good strength. He can milk a run and get the most out of a play. And he has the ability to always fall forward at the end of a run, which can mean the difference between 3 and 4 yards."
And somewhere down the road, the Redskins expect Ervins to be able to handle a workload of 20 to 25 carries a game. "Everyone feels that way now," said Breaux.
Meggett, who is averaging 7 yards per rush and 8.5 per pass reception, is nursing a heel injury suffered in the Giants' 23-20 win over Pittsburgh a week ago Monday. Coach Ray Handley said it was only 50-50 that Meggett would be able to play against the Skins.