Morning Ram-blings: Austin, kick returner?

October, 19, 2013
10/19/13
8:00
AM ET
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams will be without running back/kick returner Benny Cunningham this week (and possibly a few more) because of an ankle injury.

Through six games, Cunningham had played a limited role, working mostly as a kick returner and getting the occasional snap as a backup running back. With Cunningham out, the Rams must now figure out how to replace him in the return game and, to a lesser extent, as a backup runner.

Austin
Here's a modest proposal for the Rams: use rookie Tavon Austin.

The choices behind Cunningham come down to Austin, running back Isaiah Pead and receiver Chris Givens. Givens is an etched in stone starter at receiver and though he returned kicks a bit last year, it would be a bit risky to put him back there right now. Pead has had major ball security issues in general but especially struggled to protect it when returning kicks.

As for Austin, the general thought is that the Rams haven't used him on kickoffs out of fear of injury due to his stature. But Austin has been just fine handling punt returns and has a good handle on how to take care of himself.

More important to the discussion, though, is the need for the Rams to get Austin involved. Their offensive philosophy has shifted in a way that keeps them from using a third receiver, especially one who doesn't block much, on a regular basis. The result was three snaps for Austin last week on a day when they didn't have many offensive snaps overall but made good use of the ones they did have.

So why not find other ways to get Austin on the field and get the ball in his hands? Put him in as the kick returner and even if he only gets one shot at returning a kick -- Carolina's Graham Gano leads the NFL with 22 touchbacks in 24 kickoffs -- that's one more chance he has to change the game.

And while we're at it, perhaps Austin should get more looks at running back as a complement to starter Zac Stacy. Some of the snaps that have gone to Cunningham and Daryl Richardson could go to Austin and give the Rams a true change of pace capable of running sweeps or catching the ball out of the backfield.

If playing time is going to be hard to find for Austin in the Rams' current offensive looks, finding other ways to get the ball in his hands would seem a logical next step and help fill a void vacated by Cunningham.

I.C.Y.M.I.

Our daily rundown of Friday's Rams' stories appearing here on ESPN.com. ... After the Ram-blings, we dived into Sunday's game between the Rams and Panthers with this week's Double Coverage. ... Next it was a look at the looming decision the Rams must make at right tackle between Rodger Saffold and Joe Barksdale. ... From there, it was a quick injury update with cornerback Cortland Finnegan returning to practice on a limited basis and a little glance at the unique challenge Carolina brings to the table with it's multi-faceted running game.

Elsewhere:

Our man John Clayton goes "Inside the Huddle" with a look at the Rams' efforts to run the ball consistently.

The NFL Live Crew makes its picks for Sunday's game.

Mike Sando provides some insight into the matchup in his weekly video look as well.

At stltoday.com, Rams wrier Jim Thomas dived into the Rams' red zone success.

Fellow Rams writer Joe Lyons discusses the return of tackle Rodger Saffold.

Jeff Gordon previews Sunday's game.

Would it be a day that ends in Y if yet another story didn't pop up pertaining to Austin? The answer is no. And, of course, the reasons for his slow start get more ridiculous by the day. USA Today takes its turn with a strange opinion from an anonymous NFL executive pointing to quarterback Sam Bradford as the reason for Austin's inability to get on track.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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