Zero receptions, zero rushing attempts, and zero returns. That was the stat line for Tavon Austin’s much anticipated preseason debut on Thursday evening against the Cleveland Browns. Although his lack of impact was certainly a surprising development don’t expect it to be a sign of the future for the St. Louis Rams’ rookie.
The 5-foot-8 176 pound lightning bug has received nothing but rave reviews from fellow players and coaches alike during the offseason and training camp to date. Clearly these guys familiar with the NFL are excited about his potential in the league, and it’s fairly easy to understand why.
According to Jarrett Bell of USA Today, the rookie completed his thought as he said if they can’t catch you… “… They can’t hit me,” Austin said.
While his athleticism is one thing, rookies coming into the league face an entirely different speed that they must adjust to. And that is the verbiage of the NFL and just how well a player can process all of the different languages being thrown their direction. By all accounts, Austin has digested this change of gears quite well. Although he did admit that it didn’t come without some challenges as Austin said:
“At first, I couldn’t understand it. For a minute, I thought I had a learning disability. I couldn’t pick it up. Now everything’s clicking.”
His lack of involvement in the opening preseason tilt is definitely a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. Head coach Jeff Fisher is no dummy. He knows teams are petrified of having to defend Austin, and giving potential opponents any insight into just how to accomplish this would be doing a disservice to himself and his team.
The longer Fisher can keep Austin under wraps, the better.
Teams are always vanilla in their schemes and play-calling during the NFL’s exhibition season. No one wants to give their opponents any insight into what might be coming in a critical matchup somewhere down the line.
Expecting Austin to abstain from touching the pigskin in the Rams’ next three preseason games would be a bit silly. There’s no doubt the team wants to see what he can do to opponents after as his quarterback Sam Bradford said “he’s made some people look silly out here.” It won’t be long before Austin is leaving opponents perplexed as to how to defend him. His teammate, Cortland Finnegan, has been searching for answers all throughout camp.
“Trying to keep up with a youngster with 17 different pitches,” Finnegan said. “It’s like he’s got a fastball, a curveball, a sinker and a few more.”
He doesn’t even know what sport he’s playing anymore. If Austin can confuse opponents to that degree there’s no doubt the Rams will reap the benefits in the win/loss column this coming season.