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Rams mailbag: Finding Tavon Austin's fit in run-heavy offense

5/29/2015

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With organized team activities finally set to begin this week, the St. Louis Rams have some sorting out to do with their offense after an offseason full of change.

At the top of that list might be receiver/returner Tavon Austin, who at first blush doesn't look to be a fit in the run-heavy offense. We explore that and more in this weekend's mailbag, Part II.

As always, you can find me on Twitter @nwagoner. Please use hashtag #RamsMail at any point during the week.

@nwagoner: I've been wondering about this myself. It goes back to the team's inability to go all in on an offensive identity until this, the fourth year of the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead regime. Going back to that offseason, the team wanted to be a spread-it-out, throw-it-around offense and invested heavily in skill position guys like Austin and Cook to make it happen. But they didn't invest in offensive linemen who could protect well enough to handle the offense. Now they have those pieces, but they've invested in offensive linemen (through the draft) to go all-in as a power-running team. That puts the onus on new coordinator Frank Cignetti to find ways to use them. Cook should be OK and will likely come in around his usual production, but Austin is a bigger test. In an ideal world, he can represent a real change of pace from what the Rams will be doing down to down. But it's fair to wonder if a team that's struggled to get the most from him in his first two seasons can flip the switch and do it now that the team has gone even further in the opposite direction of his skill set.



@nwagoner: As I wrote about in March, the Rams don't want to commit to a timetable for Brian Quick, given the severity of his injury and what's required for him to get back up to speed. But all signs point to him making progress and it seems like Week 1 is going to be realistic. We'll get a better idea when we get to see what he's up to during OTAs starting this Thursday and, more importantly, how far along he is when training camp rolls around in late July.



@nwagoner: The battle will likely come down to those two players, but the Rams are high on Marcus Roberson and he performed pretty well when given some chances late in the year last year. I'd tend to think Brandon McGee's best chance it to make it in addition to Roberson as a sixth corner rather than as a fifth corner who beats him out. With Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson set for free agency after the season, Roberson might have a chance to stake a longer-term claim this year, if given the opportunity.



@nwagoner: I'm not sure that's really at the root of that problem, but there's no doubt that the slow starts are a major issue that must be corrected. They continue to dig themselves in an early hole they can never get all the way out of. And they do OTAs just like every team. He does orientations instead of minicamps. I don't think that's really a problem. In fact, I think it's one of the "different" things the Rams do that makes a lot of sense. Fisher does it to protect his players and it generally seems to work. I don't know the reason for the slow starts, but I don't think this is it.



@nwagoner: As it stands right now, it's hard to make a call on center. I think the Rams would like to see Barrett Jones claim that job, but I get the sense they really will evaluate all of the options. Tim Barnes has at least a little experience and don't underestimate Demetrius Rhaney, who has the toughness and quickness to be an intriguing option. But when evaluating centers, I always tend to lean toward intelligence above all else and from talking to people at Rams Park, Jones is one of the smartest players on the team. If he's healthy, he's probably the favorite, but that guarantees nothing moving forward. At guard, I tend to wonder if the team is comfortable just plugging Jamon Brown into a spot and having him start right away. If they didn't have so much youth elsewhere, maybe there's no concern there. That's not to say it would be a surprise if he did, but it also wouldn't be a surprise if Garrett Reynolds got some work there until they're comfortable with Brown in one spot. I still maintain signing Justin Blalock would be the best move (unless there's injury issues or something else I'm unaware of), but they don't seem to be in a rush to do that.



@nwagoner: As it stands, this would be how I'd project everything to play out. E.J. Gaines and Janoris Jenkins on the outside with Lamarcus Joyner in the nickel. Theoretically, they could also go with Trumaine Johnson as the third corner and bump Gaines inside in the nickel. But having Gaines and Jenkins on the outside with Joyner in the slot not only makes sense for this season, but could be how they want to line up for the long term as well.