Austin unveiling boosts Rams' intrigue

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
7:46
PM ET
There's probably not a player the St. Louis Rams have drafted in the past decade or so that fans have been more excited to see in real games than rookie receiver Tavon Austin.

The buzz about Austin has been omnipresent since the Rams moved up to select him eighth overall in April’s NFL draft. The time has nearly arrived.

“I’m really excited,” Austin said. “I’m just blessed to be in this place where I’m at right now. This is my dream, it’s anybody’s dream. I am just glad that I am living it. I am going to try to make some special things happen for this team and myself and just go from there.”

Austin’s unveiling will come Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET when the Rams host the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 regular-season opener. That much we know. What remains unknown and, in some cases, unseen is the extent of Austin’s role.

During the open portion of training camp, the Rams moved Austin all over the field, using him as a receiver, returner, running back and in just about any scenario you could imagine offensively.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceThe Rams won't say what Tavon Austin will be doing Sunday, so Arizona must prepare for anything.
In the preseason games, the Rams made it a point to be vanilla offensively; when it came to Austin, they went for no flavor at all.

Even when Rams coach Jeff Fisher was asked Wednesday about potential plans for Austin, he made it quite clear he’s not tipping his hand.

“He’s ready to go,” Fisher said. “He’s prepared to do whatever we ask him to do for us this week.”

Fisher did acknowledge that Austin is caught up on the playbook and understands his responsibilities within the offense and, presumably, special teams. If that’s the case, Austin’s use will be constrained only by the limitations of the imagination of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Let there be no doubt: The Rams have plans for Austin, big plans, the type of plans that would extend beyond the diminutive wideout.

Just because the Rams aren’t offering up the blueprints to those plans -- and why would they? -- doesn’t mean other teams aren’t preparing for a variety of things. Arizona coach Bruce Arians expects everything including the kitchen sink to be hurled in his team’s direction Sunday.

“He’s a dynamic player,” Arians said. “You could see it coming out. Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath. Not only did you throw it to him at West Virginia, he ran it. So, you have to get ready for some things. Knowing Brian a little and his past, there’ll be some Wildcat with him. There’ll be some other things, but he is a dynamic player.”

It’s unfair to expect Austin to burst on the scene, score touchdowns from every position and angle imaginable in his debut. After all, he’s still a rookie receiver, and rookie receivers rarely make an instant impact in the NFL.

The beauty of Austin’s varied skill set is that he doesn’t have to hurt you with his receiving skills to make a difference. He can be a running back. He can be a returner. He can be a highly drafted decoy.

All of those things will be in play, and all of them are things the Cardinals will have to account for Sunday.

For Austin to affect the game in the way the Rams hope, he’ll have to be on top of a lot of responsibilities. Quarterback Sam Bradford took notice at Wednesday’s practice, when Austin came up to him during the workout and talked to him about adjustments to make against certain coverages.

The faster Austin matures in recognizing those things, the sooner the Rams can take advantage of all that he has in his toolbox.

“I think he’s starting to understand the finer points of the offense and of the routes that he’s running,” Bradford said. “That shows a lot to me because we haven’t had those conversations before. I think it’s really great to see something like that happen.”

At minimum, it’s a safe bet we’ll see Austin working as a receiver in the slot and handling punt-returning duties. Those are areas the Rams have openly acknowledged throughout the preseason.

It wouldn’t be a shock if Austin returned kicks at some point or lined up at running back in various formations. The possibilities go on and on. All that’s left to do now is sit back and watch.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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