Thursday, November 21, 2013
Tavon Austin as dangerous as Hester
By Michael C. Wright
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears spent a portion of Wednesday’s practice focusing on tactics for neutralizing St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin in the kicking game.
In the Rams’ Nov. 10 win at Indianapolis, Austin returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown in addition to scoring on receptions of 57 and 81 yards. Chicago’s staff considers Austin as dangerous as Bears return man Devin Hester.
“I’ve seen too much of him. I watched him in his college days, evaluating him, and I’ve seen him on tape,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Our emphasis today was certainly on covering, how to kick to him. Just flip it over and imagine it was Devin. Those are the things we are going through in our preparation for Tavon. He’s a difference-maker, no doubt about it. If you give him space, he’ll take advantage of it.”
That’s where directional kicking comes into play for punter Adam Podlesh, who specializes in that area. Austin averages 8.9 yards per return on punts and 23.6 yards on kickoffs.
On offense, Austin is tied for the team lead in receptions (33) and touchdowns(4).
Chicago’s in-depth knowledge of Austin stems from team’s interest and pre-draft evaluation of the former West Virginia star, who ended up being taken with the eighth-overall pick.
“Just flat-out explosion [is what you see with Austin],” Bears special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. “We did a lot of work on him last year during the draft. He’s picking it up. He’s got his confidence growing right now. The thing that nobody gets is how many returns he’s had called back. [Against] Dallas, a touchdown, a 50 yarder and there were several others during the year. It’s going to be a real test for us.”
One made even more difficult by the fact the Bears are utilizing so many inexperienced players on special teams because of injuries.
“We’ve got one that’s like him [in Devin Hester],” DeCamillis said. “I know when we were playing Devin [in the past], it was always nerve-wracking getting ready for him, and it’s the same thing with this guy. Our guys are going to be up for the task, and we’re going to kick if off and let’s see how we do.”