St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin

Rams draft rewind: 2013

April, 14, 2014
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The NFL draft is still about a month away, leaving us with plenty of time to look ahead to what might happen. But it also gives us plenty of time to take a look back.

In the interest of keeping Rams fans from re-living the nightmares of drafts gone by, we'll limit our look back to drafts from which at least one current player remains on the roster.

With that, we finish off our recap of recent draft classes with a look at last year's group. Let's make a note that drawing any long-term conclusions after one year is an exercise in futility so keep in mind much of what follows is subject to change.

The picks: WR Tavon Austin (No. 8 overall), LB Alec Ogletree (No. 30), S T.J. McDonald (No. 71), WR Stedman Bailey (No. 92), OL Barrett Jones (No.113), CB Brandon McGee (No. 149), RB Zac Stacy (No. 160)

Austin
What's left: All of last year's picks made the active roster and, with the exception of Jones, all were asked to make fairly significant contributions at times. Jones essentially took a redshirt year as he rehabbed a foot injury and worked to add strength. McGee also didn't play much aside from special teams but did struggle when injuries required him to step in late in the season.

Austin, Ogletree, McDonald, Bailey and Stacy all figure prominently into the team's plans moving forward and all could factor as starters at their respective positions in 2014.

Best pick (so far): Ogletree got better as the season went along and led the team in tackles while starting from day one. But Ogletree was also a first-round choice so playing time and production were expected. For the purpose of this exercise, we'll go with Stacy because of the fact that his contributions came as a fifth-round selection. Stacy didn't become the full-time starter until week 5 but came up just short of 1,000 yards for the season and stabilized a dreadful run game almost immediately. Although some nagging injuries got in his way, Stacy managed to not miss a full game and figures to be the team's primary ball carrier moving forward. In a few years, don't be surprised if Ogletree, Austin, Bailey or someone else has a strong case for this spot.

Worst pick (so far): Nothing against Jones because it's unfair to judge someone who hasn't played but the simple fact that he's barely seen the field when everyone else has at least contributed makes him the choice. Again, it's too early to make any sweeping judgments on this class either positive or negative but until Jones gets on the field and provides some production, the rest of the class remains ahead of him. For what it's worth, the Rams still have high hopes for Jones' future.

What could have been: One year removed, who knows how some of these picks will turn out but there is one early "what if" that could be fair to question. Clearly, the Rams needed immediate help at wide receiver as they used two of their first four picks at the position. And though Austin and Bailey both appear to have bright futures, the receiver in this class that made the biggest difference as a rookie was on the board when the Rams picked McDonald in the third round. The team obviously needed a safety and has high hopes for McDonald, who might not have been available with the later third-round choice, but Allen was there to be had at No. 71. He posted 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013, rare production for a rookie receiver.
The past week saw the St. Louis Rams finally dip their toes into the free-agent pool, signing a pair of veterans in defensive tackle Alex Carrington and quarterback Shaun Hill and taking a flyer on under-the-radar youngsters in cornerback Greg Reid and linebacker Etienne Sabino.

It was also a busy week for coach Jeff Fisher, who spent most of the time discussing potential rule changes and alterations at the owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. Fisher also spent some time chatting with reporters, offering some thoughts on a variety of issues.

A look back at the week that was:

  • [+] EnlargeTavon Austin
    Tony Avelar/AP PhotoThe Rams are hoping to get more out of receiver Tavon Austin in his second season.
    After trading up to the eighth pick in the NFL draft last year, the Rams selected receiver/returner Tavon Austin in hopes that he'd provide a spark to an offense in desperate need of one. In his rookie year, Austin certainly flashed that game-changing ability, especially against Indianapolis and Chicago, but missed time at the end of the year with an ankle injury and fell short of the many lofty outside expectations for him.
But the Rams have no concerns about that. In Orlando, Fisher expressed confidence Austin would take the next step in 2014 and the team would have a better idea of ways to best use him.

“We’re not disappointed in what his production was last year at all," Fisher said. "One of the things that was misleading was he had two or three returns called back -- one against Dallas --and then he got hurt. I think another year in the program, in the offense, OTAs, training camp, you’ll see more production. I think we’ll do a better job of using him now that we know what he’s capable of doing. Kind of looking forward to see him improve from year one to year two."

  • Signing Carrington was no surprise in that the Rams were looking for help on the defensive line. It was a little more of a surprise that he was the team's first free-agent addition from another team. St. Louis saw great value in Carrington, who has the ability to play all over the line and signed a relatively cheap one-year deal.
“We just wanted rotational depth at the tackle spot," Fisher said. "We’ve had over 100 sacks the last two years, so we can rush the passer, I think we can continue [that]. We just wanted some more experience at that spot. It will take a little of the draft pressure off us at some point. Alex has been injured, healthy now and has played a lot of different positions in a number of schemes in the last couple years and hasn’t been able to settle down. We liked him coming out, we thought he would be a disruptive type pass rusher and run defender and we’d like to give him a chance to do that."

Carrington is coming off a torn quad but the Rams have no concerns about his health moving forward.

  • It's no secret the Rams have interest in help on the offensive line as many have linked them to the top three tackles: Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan. The first two are expected to go in the top six or so but Lewan's status is a little more of a question mark given some off-field issues.
Fisher didn't want to speculate on how that might change the way the team views Lewan but said it will require a deeper look.

“It doesn’t cause you pause in evaluating, but it certainly going to cause to do more background and research on it," Fisher said.

  • Finally, anytime a player like receiver DeSean Jackson comes available, the obvious question is whether the Rams would have interest in him. Clearly, the Rams could use a No. 1 type of receiver and a proven one like Jackson might make even more sense than taking a chance on even the most talented receiver in the draft.
Jackson is scheduled to visit Washington first and Oakland and Buffalo have also expressed interest. Indications from the Rams are that they won't be involved in this particular conversation in any sort of serious way. While the Rams could use the help, they don't have a lot of salary cap space to use on a player who would probably require another big cap number. Theoretically they could give him a smaller number in the first year but that would require them to backload the deal more than they'd like and eat up valuable space that could be used on extensions for current players in the next few years.

There's also the idea that Jackson would be a bit redundant with Austin, which is to say they are both smaller receivers with games built on speed and change of direction. Not that both players couldn't succeed but it still may not be the best fit.

Beyond all of that, there's the larger X factor of why, exactly, Philadelphia released such a productive player under contract in the prime of his career. One way or another, the Eagles had their reasons and, like Fisher mentioned with Lewan, there will need to be some major legwork done by any team looking to add Jackson.

Injured Rams working back to health

February, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead offered some updates on the team's variety of key injured players Friday afternoon at the NFL scouting combine.

According to Fisher and Snead, quarterback Sam Bradford (knee), offensive tackle Jake Long (knee), receiver Tavon Austin (ankle) and center Scott Wells (leg) are all progressing toward a return.

Here's a quick rundown of the status of each from the coach and general manager:

Bradford and Long -- "Sometimes the human makes a difference," Snead said. "Jake's a professional and he's gonna attack this. But I'm not losing sleep over both of those injuries. We've all said that we're not gonna put an inorganic timeline on it. This date or bust. But you've got enough signs to know that these guys should be ready to go in the season. And kind of play it by ear."

Austin and Wells -- "[They're] doing well," Fisher said. "I don’t think there’s any issues now. Scott is running and Tavon, I have seen video of him working out in an indoor facility and he looked pretty good to me."

Austin's injury was the least serious on the list so it's no surprise that he's coming along well. Bradford is well into his rehab and is expected to resume throwing this spring. Wells is also pretty far along and the fact that he's running again should bode well for him.

Long is the one that is going to take some time given that he only recently had surgery to a fairly dramatic injury. The Rams have expressed optimism that Long would be ready for the regular season opener but as Snead mentioned, attempting to put a specific timetable on it right now would be a fool's errand.
ST. LOUIS -- Four weeks into the 2013 season, St. Louis Rams fans had no shortage of reasons to be frustrated. While the offense struggled to score points and the defense struggled to stop opponents from scoring them, the special teams drew particular ire for an amazing knack for racking up penalties.

Field position regularly favored Rams opponents early on and the Rams set a record-breaking pace for special teams infractions. The amount of penalties would yield plenty of options to choose from but perhaps none signified the Rams' struggles in this area more than a Week 3 punt return from rookie Tavon Austin.

Trailing Dallas 17-0 early in the third quarter, Austin received a punt at the Rams' 16 and weaved his way 84 yards for a would-be touchdown. Of course, before Austin really ever got going, the all too familiar yellow flag had already been thrown for holding on cornerback Brandon McGee. Safety T.J. McDonald was soon penalized for throwing an illegal blindside block and any hopes of a potential game-altering play vanished.

Even Austin knew it the moment he reached the end zone, dropping to the ground in exasperation.

The special teams' penalty problems would persist a bit longer, eventually reaching maximum frustration for Austin in a win against Jacksonville in Week 5 as Austin quickly exited the locker room with eye black still on soon after it was over.

The Rams would eventually get the special teams penalty problem corrected but the issue was a major factor in the team's 1-3 start.
ST. LOUIS -- On Thursday, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. took a break from looking ahead to the 2014 draft and stopped to reflect on last year's class.

In this Insider piece, Insider Kiper went team-by-team, provided his grades from immediately after the draft and altered them as he now sees fit. For the St. Louis Rams, Kiper changed the team's original grade, actually opting to drop it slightly.

Kiper's original grade for the Rams in 2013 was an A- but after factoring in the performance of this year's group, he decided to move it down to a B+. Here's a small sample of what Kiper thought of the Rams' rookie class:

"St. Louis moved up for [Tavon] Austin, and, although he was underused, he still had 40 catches and has star potential. [Alec] Ogletree wasn't perfect by any means, but he started, didn't come off the field, made some big plays and is going to get better. [T.J.] McDonald is a starter going forward, and he did OK before and after he got hurt. [Zac] Stacy looks like a steal, and nearly went over 1,000 yards. He'll be the starter going forward."

To be honest, I was a bit surprised to see Kiper adjust his grade using his criteria. In addition to first-year performance, Kiper also took into account each team's undrafted free agents and how much the rookie class helped the team win games.

I have to believe Kiper downgraded the Rams because they were unable to piece together a winning record and Austin didn't quite meet the lofty expectations many had for him.

However, this rookie group played a big part in the games the Rams did win and the team got production from its share of undrafted rookies as well, particularly on special teams. Receiver Stedman Bailey also emerged late in the season and was the team's most consistent receiver in the final month or so.

I'm of the belief that fully judging any rookie class before three years doesn't give a full picture but either way it appears at worst the Rams found some key contributors and at best found some potential stars (Austin, Ogletree, Stacy) who could be cornerstone players well into the future.
ST. LOUIS -- Nine games into his rookie season, St. Louis Rams receiver/returner Tavon Austin hadn't yet provided the electric play making ability many expected when the team moved up to choose him No. 8 overall in last year's draft.

Austin
Plagued by early drops and route-running adjustments as well as the team's inability to get him the ball in space, Austin's first nine games were only memorable for how unmemorable they were. Along the way, penalties had often nullified the few big plays he had made such as a long touchdown catch against Carolina and a punt return against Dallas.

Finally, the floodgates opened in Week 10 against Indianapolis as the Rams stunned the Colts in Austin's coming out party. With 10 minutes, 48 seconds to go in the first half, Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee boomed one 58 yards that looked poised to either go into the end zone for a touchback or fall out of bounds at the Rams' 2.

Austin waved off his teammates, yelling 'Poison,' the code word for stay away as the ball skipped toward the goal line and up the sideline. At the last moment, Austin made the snap decision to grab the ball and attempt a return. Before the Colts could react, Austin was speeding down the sideline with the ball and a cadre of blockers in front.

By the time the play was through, Austin had motored 98 yards for a touchdown and the first big play of his young career. It gave the Rams a commanding 21-0 lead on their way to a convincing 38-8 victory and was the first of a trio of big plays on the day for Austin.

While Austin might have fallen short of the inflated outside expectations that existed for him, the punt return and the ensuing long touchdown catches proved Austin is more than capable of being the type of game changer the Rams thought they were getting when they spent such hefty draft capital on him in April.
ST. LOUIS -- In today's social media-centric world, the idea of incriminating photos popping up is nothing new. Actually, it's pretty standard.

But sometimes too much can be made of a simple photo. Such was the case with a picture recently taken by a group of Rams fans with receiver Tavon Austin.

The photo, which features Austin posing with a group that is doing what it can to try to bring the Rams back to Los Angeles, led to a blog entry on stltoday.com from Joe Holleman.

In the photo, Austin poses in front of the group while at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in southern California.

Tensions are a bit high in St. Louis right now when it comes to the Rams and anything Los Angeles related. The Rams' lease at the Edward Jones Dome ends after next season and there has been no movement toward a solution for a new stadium or a revamped dome.

Of course, the same can be said of Los Angeles, but that doesn't keep either side from engaging in social media arguing or bickering. In reality, Austin posing with fans of the team he plays for, no matter where they are from, isn't something that should draw criticism. Plenty of athletes go out of their way to ignore their fans.

In the bigger picture, it doesn't matter how many players pose for photos with any group it won't have any impact on what happens with the team's future in St. Louis.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we began with a look at some of the mid-level quarterback prospects in this year's draft. ... Next, we hit No. 7 on the plays that shaped the season with an important interception returned for a touchdown. ... From there, we took a look at what's coming next in this offseason for the Rams. ... Then, we went off the beaten path to look at how a Hall of Fame Ram feels about the arrest of Justin Bieber. ... Finally, we closed the day with our first look at a potential trade candidate for the Rams in this year's draft, starting with the Atlanta Falcons.

Chat: This week's chat is scheduled for today at 1 p.m. ET. You can submit questions now or join me then here. Hope to see you there.

Elsewhere:

Because I'm an advocate of promoting stories that are simply great reads even if not directly tied to the Rams, I can't recommend this piece from Ian O'Connor on the former students of Vince Lombardi enough.

Unlike last year, this Senior Bowl doesn't feature many of the top offensive linemen in the 2014 draft, Jim Thomas of stltoday.com, writes.

Bernie Miklasz writes that Rams general manager Les Snead needs to step up his poker face.

Bryan Burwell offers his take on the Richard Sherman situation.

At SI.com, Don Banks re-drafts the 2013 NFL draft.

Turf Show Times provides an early look at free agency.

Rams still in need of top receiver

January, 16, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- Less than 24 hours after the St. Louis Rams' 2013 season had come to an end with a blowout loss to Seattle, coach Jeff Fisher was asked how his team can catch up to the Seahawks and the rest of the NFC West.

The Seahawks’ dominant defense, much like Arizona’s and San Francisco’s before it, had stifled the Rams' offense. After spending another afternoon stuck in the mud with just 158 yards of total offense, Fisher pointed to the obvious solution.

“All three teams play really good defense, and we’ve got to play better offense and score more points to compete with them,” Fisher said.

[+] EnlargeVontae Davis and Tavon Austin
AP Photo/AJ MastThe Rams used a first-round pick on receiver Tavon Austin last year, but that doesn't mean they will shy away from receivers early in the upcoming draft.
As the Rams prepare for free agency and the NFL draft, those words should loom large in determining the direction they take. It should also yield an added emphasis on finding more playmakers at wide receiver.

St. Louis finished 30th in the league in total yards and 22nd in offensive points scored in 2013. In some sense those numbers were skewed by the absence of starting quarterback Sam Bradford, and some strange scenarios, such as the Houston game where the Rams jumped to such a big lead and got so many big plays from the defense and special teams that the offense wasn’t needed.

The Rams played nine games against the top seven defenses in the league in terms of total yards allowed. Clearly, that’s a big reason for the Rams’ lack of production. It’s also a big reason the Rams need to get better offensively, considering three of those defenses are in the NFC West and not going anywhere anytime soon.

After the offense’s aborted attempt to go to a more wide-open attack in the first four games, Fisher and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer returned to their run-heavy roots in Game 5 with rookie back Zac Stacy in the lead role.

That attack gave the Rams a chance week to week, but it was exposed by defenses capable of stopping the run. Never was that more evident than in the season finale against Seattle when the Seahawks shut down Stacy and forced Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens to try to beat them through the air.

Clemens, who had most of his success when the run game was working, simply wasn’t able to take advantage. Not all the blame for that should go on Clemens. Those struggles exposed a bigger issue that has remained a problem for the Rams since the heyday of Torry Holt: the lack of a top receiver capable of regularly creating separation against top cornerbacks on the outside.

Chris Givens led Rams receivers in yards with 569. For greater context, the Rams haven’t had a wideout reach even 700 receiving yards since Holt in 2008, nevermind 1,000 yards, which Holt hit in 2007. A total of 57 receivers -- not including tight ends and running backs -- finished with more yards than Givens in 2013.

Asked last week how he views a receiving corps with so little production, Rams general manager Les Snead said he still has faith in the team’s young group.

“Statistically, you’ve heard me say teams win, individuals don’t,” Snead said. “We’re in this fantasy football type age, and I think if you look at seven of the top 10 pass-catchers, seven of the top 10 didn’t make the playoffs. So there’s three of them who are in. So yes, those guys are really good individual players, had great seasons, it didn’t mean their teams made the playoffs.”

Actually, four of the top 10 receivers in terms of yards made the postseason, but it’s also worth noting that nine of the 12 teams making the playoffs had a 1,000-yard receiver. The three that didn’t -- Seattle, Carolina and Kansas City -- each had at least two pass-catchers more productive than the Rams’ leader regardless of position, tight end Jared Cook.

Of course, it’s also important to note that the Rams played the 2013 season with the youngest group of skill position players in the league, especially at receiver. Austin Pettis, in his third season, was the team’s most experienced wideout.

With that youth came plenty of growing pains, including a variety of dropped balls, route-running troubles and miscommunications. Bradford’s absence also has to be accounted for in looking at the numbers.

Still, the lack of production at wideout doesn’t seem to faze Snead, as evidenced by his response to the question on whether he believes the team still needs a No. 1 receiver.

“I go back to this and the answer is really 'no' on that,” Snead said. “I think our receivers right now, I truly believe as they progress and the oldest guy just finished his third year, we cannot have another receiver around here and we’re going to be a good football team.”

Rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey showed flashes of promise in their first season, and should figure prominently into the plans for 2014. The Rams seem prepared to remain patient with Brian Quick, and Givens certainly fills a role as a deep threat.

While Snead likes the progress of the receivers, it also doesn’t mean the team is necessarily averse to adding at the position. As is common at this time of year, Snead, Fisher and Co. are playing their cards close to the vest.

In the past two drafts, the Rams have used four picks on wideouts, including the No. 8 overall choice on Austin a year ago. But that doesn’t mean they should stand pat at the position.

Even if it means using a premium draft pick to add one, for the Rams to have a chance to overcome the elite defenses in the division they must find a way to add a consistent difference-maker at wide receiver.

Pair of Rams earn All Rookie honors

January, 14, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- The award season has been good to St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and punter Johnny Hekker. On Tuesday, it was time for another pair of Rams to gain some accolades.

The Pro Football Writers of America handed out rookie honors and Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree and punt returner Tavon Austin made the team.

Ogletree
Austin
Ogletree's inclusion was a no brainer after he led the Rams in tackles with 118 tackles in addition to his six forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks, an interception returned for a touchdown and nine pass breakups. Ogletree improved throughout the season and announced himself as a possible future star in his rookie season.

Austin's spot is a little bit more up for debate. He had 33 punt returns for 280 yards, including a 98-yard return for a touchdown. His return average of 8.48 yards per attempt was solid and would have been better if not for some silly early-season penalties on the team's return units.

But Green Bay cornerback Micah Hyde actually could present a case just as strong, if not better. Hyde had 24 punt returns for 296 yards, an average of 12.33 yards per attempt and also had a touchdown. For the record, the All Rookie team differentiates between kick and punt returners. Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson won the kick return award as a slam dunk choice.

Some Rams fans might be wondering about the absence of Zac Stacy at the running back position. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy, who won the overall Rookie of the Year award, and Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard claimed the two running back spots. While Stacy had more rushing yards than Bernard, the Bengals' rookie back had a bigger role in the passing game and finished with more total yards.

Certainly, an argument could be made for Stacy and had he played all 16 games, chances are he'd have not only made it over Bernard but potentially pushed Lacy for the overall award. As it is, it's hard to quibble with the selection of Lacy and Bernard since all three backs were deserving.

All-NFC West: St. Louis Rams

January, 2, 2014
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

 ST. LOUIS -- As though the St. Louis Rams' last-place finish in the hypercompetitive NFC West division wasn't enough of a reminder of how far they have to go to become legitimate contenders again, one need only look at how they fared in our voting for an all-division team.

While Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona each had at least seven representatives on a team consisting of 26 players, the Rams finished with just three players to qualify. In all honesty, it's hard to argue with the result, save for one notable exception I'll get to in a moment.

The three Rams to make the list are defensive end Robert Quinn, outside linebacker Alec Ogletree and returner Tavon Austin. Before we get into the reasons, let's lay out the rules of the voting here. We voted for actual teams with an additional defender allowed because of the different defensive schemes used by the teams in the division. We also stuck to positions so we couldn't just vote for the four best linebackers regardless of inside or outside. We had to have two outside 'backers and two inside 'backers.

With that out of the way, it's hard to argue against any of the three Rams who made the cut.

Quinn was the obvious choice, an absolute no-brainer who is not only the best at his position in the division but in the NFL as a whole. He has built a compelling case to be the league's defensive player of the year. Quinn became a complete player in 2013, adding a much-improved ability to stop the run to his repertoire in addition to his dynamic pass-rush skills. All of that added up to his first career Pro Bowl invitation.

Ogletree put together a strong rookie season, showing the type of week-to-week improvement the Rams hoped he'd achieve after using a late first-round pick on him in 2013. Staying on the field for all three downs, the former college safety was adept in coverage right off the bat, but game experience helped his instincts and he got better against the run along the way. What's more, Ogletree showed a knack for the splash play, forcing six fumbles and returning an interception 98 yards for a touchdown.

It should be noted that while Ogletree had a good year and is deserving of his inclusion, he's also a direct beneficiary of our voting rules. Other outstanding linebackers were left off because of the plethora of talented inside linebackers and the standard allowing for only two of them to make it.

In a division loaded with dangerous returners such as Arizona's Patrick Peterson and Seattle's Golden Tate, it was the Rams' other first-round pick who landed the votes to be the team's returner. Austin had a rocky start as a returner as penalties from his teammates nullified some big returns and left him frustrated in the first part of the season. But Austin grew up along with his young special-teams units and began to find a groove. His scintillating 98-yard punt return for a touchdown against Indianapolis was the team's most exciting play of the season and just a glimpse of what the future may hold for the dangerous rookie.

All three of those Rams are deserving of their place on this team and though I argued vehemently for the inclusion of one more, punter Johnny Hekker, he came up short to the more well-known name in San Francisco's Andy Lee. In fact, each NFC West reporter threw out a nomination for the punter he covers, but the case for Hekker was far better than the others. He was consistently excellent throughout the year and set the league record for net punting in a season. At least the Pro Bowl voters got that one right.

Aside from Hekker, it's hard to see anything more than maybe some minor quibbles with the team from a Rams perspective. Cases could be made for Michael Brockers at defensive tackle or Greg Zuerlein at kicker. Jake Long likely would have landed a spot if we took the two best tackles rather than a left and right.

As it's currently constructed, I have little doubt the Rams' roster is much better than it was when coach Jeff Fisher arrived. For St. Louis to take the next step, more players like Quinn will need to take the next step forward and emerge as elite in the game's toughest division.

ST. LOUIS -- Nobody had higher expectations for St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin's rookie season than Austin himself.

As the first skill position player drafted last April, Austin was expected to come in and jump-start the Rams' offense and special teams with his combination of speed and elusiveness.

While there were flashes of all of that -- he took over and dominated the team's win against Indianapolis -- the thing lacking most was consistency.

Austin summed up his first NFL season best on Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after sitting out his third consecutive game with a sprained ankle.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
AP Foto/Tom GannamTavon Austin scored touchdowns three different ways (four receiving, one rushing, one punt return).
“I did OK,” Austin said. “Not the year I definitely wanted. I had a slow start and then hurt at the end but my focus next year is finish the year out and play how I usually play, make big plays and help this team win.”

Much like his punt return style, Austin's season was full of stops and starts. He struggled with drops right off the bat, losing the handle on six passes in the first five weeks. Likewise, the Rams rarely found ways to get him the ball in open space.

Aside from a two-touchdown game against Atlanta in Week 2, Austin was a relative non-factor the first nine weeks of the season. Of course, the lack of production wasn't all his fault, either.

Silly penalties nullified a handful of big punt returns, including a touchdown against Dallas and a tripping penalty canceled out a long touchdown grab against Carolina.

Austin insisted he wasn't frustrated but it was evident on his face as he left the locker room moments after the team's win against Jacksonville in Week 5 with his eye black still under his eyes.

The worm finally turned against the Colts, jump-started by a scintillating 98-yard punt return for a touchdown as the Rams surged to a 38-8 win and Austin added touchdown catches covering 138 yards total.

“That's definitely my favorite play so far,” Austin said of the return. “Hopefully in the future we have got a lot of big plays coming too.”

Austin followed the next week with a 65-yard touchdown run to give the Rams an early lead against Chicago on the way to another convincing win. It wasn't until two weeks later that Austin had another big play, a 56-yard rush against Arizona where Austin suffered the ankle injury as he fell to the ground.

For the first time in his football-playing career, Austin had to sit out a game. And another. And another.

Austin says he fought the urge to be frustrated by missing games, opting to pay close attention and trying to see things from the sideline that aren't as visible when he's on the field.

“You see a lot,” Austin said. “You see defenses, you see the mental side of it, how smart you are as far as reading coverages on the sideline. That's how I took it. I definitely didn't take it as a loss. I took some positive out of it. I believe I got a lot smarter.”

Austin's ankle injury doesn't appear to have any long-term implications. He said Monday he would have been able to play this week if the Rams had a game. But Austin also is clear that he wants to find ways to continue building his body heading into his second season.

“I am going to put on a couple more pounds, not lose my speed and just work on the small things of the game, the mental part, some things like that,” Austin said. “That's what I can improve.”

Austin's final numbers fall well short of the many unrealistic expectations that were placed on him when he entered the league. He finished with 40 catches for 418 yards, nine carries for 151 yards and five touchdowns combined between the two.

As a returner, Austin added that aforementioned touchdown while averaging 22.11 yards per kick return and 8.48 yards per punt return.

While the numbers aren't eye-popping, Austin made enough big plays to show that he does indeed have the ability to be a game-changing player. The challenge moving forward falls not only on Austin to become a more consistent route runner and pass-catcher but also on the Rams to put him in position to make plays.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer found some creative ways -- see the touchdown run against Chicago -- to use Austin but those were too few and far between. Additionally, it will be interesting to see where Austin fits if the Rams remain committed to the run-heavy approach they showed in the final 12 weeks.

Austin has too much ability to only touch the ball in the offense four or five times a game but if that is to be his role, the Rams have to at least find ways to maximize those touches. Adding a No. 1 receiver to open some things up underneath would also be a helpful touch.

Regardless of how that plays out, Austin has his sights set on bigger things in 2014 after his introduction to the rigors of the NFL.

“It's a different league but I'm grateful for the opportunities I had and I took advantage of them,” Austin said. “I'm going to keep on pushing and next year will definitely be a better year.”

Week 17: Rams rookie review

December, 30, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at playing time and performance of each of the St. Louis Rams' drafted rookies and a quick glimpse at the undrafted rookie class in Sunday's 27-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

WR Tavon Austin, first round, No. 8 overall: Austin tested his injured ankle before the game but simply wasn't healthy enough to be put back in the lineup. He was inactive for the third consecutive game.

LB Alec Ogletree, first round, No. 30 overall: Ogletree finished a strong rookie campaign with a bit of a rough go on his 65 defensive plays and five special teams opportunities.

Although he managed to post eight tackles, one for loss and a pass defended, Ogletree was also on the wrong end of some penalty calls. It was hard to decipher if the calls on Ogletree were actually supposed to be on him given the overall ineptitude of the officiating crew in identifying players committing infractions but either way, Ogletree was often in the middle of a pile of flags.

S T.J. McDonald, third round, No. 71 overall: McDonald played 65 defensive snaps and nine more on special teams in what was a quiet day for him all the way around. He mustered four tackles, one for loss but was otherwise hard to find in this one.

WR Stedman Bailey, third round, No. 92 overall: Bailey got 38 snaps on offense, second most among receivers to go with his eight special teams appearances. He was targeted five times in the passing game and came down with four catches for 33 yards.

OL Barrett Jones, fourth round, No. 113 overall: Jones played a lone snap on special teams -- blocking on a field goal for kicker Greg Zuerlein -- as he again served as the backup to center Tim Barnes.

CB Brandon McGee, fifth round, No. 149 overall: With Trumaine Johnson out for a bit with some sort of issue, McGee stepped in and played 14 snaps on defense in addition to his usual large special teams workload, as he took 21 plays there.

The Seahawks wasted no time targeting McGee when he was in, throwing his way on multiple occasions. He finished with four tackles because of it.

RB Zac Stacy, fifth round, No. 160 overall: Stacy has his least productive game as a starter with running lanes nearly impossible to find on any of his 52 snaps. He carried 15 times for 15 yards and had four catches for 23 yards as he fell 27 yards short of reaching 1,000 rushing yards for the season.

Undrafted rookie roundup: Running back Benny Cunningham played one snap on offense and seven more on special teams and had a catch for 2 yards. … Linebackers Ray-Ray Armstrong and Daren Bates played their usual 21 snaps on special teams. Armstrong had a tackle but was also guilty of more penalties, an issue that had been cast aside recently but one that has remained in the background all season for him. … Safety Cody Davis also had 22 special teams plays.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the third consecutive week, St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin is questionable for Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks because of an ankle injury. But there appears to be a bit more hope than there's been the past two weeks.

Austin was a limited participant in practice Friday, ending a run of nearly three straight weeks in which he'd gone without participating in any practices. In each of the past two weeks Austin has missed those workouts then missed the ensuing game. Austin getting some work on Friday at least leaves the door open that he could return for the season finale.

Technically, the questionable designation makes a player participating a 50/50 proposition. Austin is likely to be a game-time decision for Sunday.

Here's the rest of the Rams' Friday injury report:

Doubtful: RB Daryl Richardson (thigh)
Questionable: Austin (ankle), S T.J. McDonald (illness)
Probable: DE Chris Long (thigh)

McDonald and Richardson did not practice Friday. Long was a full participant.

Morning Ram-blings: On rookie receivers

December, 27, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have found themselves in a perpetual search for help at wide receiver, a search that has centered mainly on the NFL draft.

Given the lack of success enjoyed by most free-agent receivers striking it rich, it's an approach that makes sense but also one that requires plenty of patience. Rare is the wideout who can enter the league and make a splash right from day one. Receivers like Julio Jones and A.J. Green are hard to find and even harder to obtain.

So it should be no surprise that the 2013 rookie class hasn't provided the type of instant impact many would like to see when it comes to receivers. ESPN Inside Slant columnist Kevin Seifert took a look at the production (or lack thereof) of this year's receiver class, and the results are interesting in that they line up with what has become the norm for first-year players at the position.

Seifert charted the 17 drafted wideouts who have caught at least one pass this season. Of that group, only San Diego's Keenan Allen and Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, a third- and first-round pick, respectively, have played what one would consider starter's snaps. In other words, it's not easy for rookie receivers to even get on the field much in their first year.

Here in St. Louis, the Rams spent the highest draft pick of any team on a receiver in 2013, selecting Tavon Austin with the eighth pick after moving up in a trade with Buffalo. The Rams also drafted Stedman Bailey in the third round. Hopkins leads all rookie receivers with 915 snaps this season. Austin and Bailey have combined for 547.

Austin was the player many hoped would provide the biggest return given the investment. But it's not easy to incorporate a unique player such as Austin, who is at his best operating in space. As the Rams struggled to find and sustain an offensive identity, Austin struggled to find his niche, occasionally finding himself barely even used in the offense.

Still, the Rams found other ways to use Austin, and he's had some electrifying moments along the way. While his 40 catches for 418 yards may be a disappointment to some, he's found a way to provide enough big plays as a receiver, runner and returner to score six touchdowns, which ranks only behind Allen and Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson in terms of rookie receivers.

Sidelined by an ankle injury the past two weeks and potentially again this week, Austin has missed out on opportunities to add to his totals. In the meantime, Bailey has helped fill the void; he scored his first touchdown on a double-reverse last week against Tampa Bay.

It's unlikely Austin or Bailey will ever be a No. 1 receiver in a conventional sense, but both have done enough to at least elicit optimism they can be key cogs for an offense moving forward. As is often the case with rookie receivers, the wait can be the hardest part.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we wondered if Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is a bit vulnerable given his recent struggles and his past problems with the Rams. ... From there, we looked at tackle Jake Long's contract and how it changed with his move to injured reserve. ... Next, we took a deeper look at all the Rams have to play for Sunday in Seattle. ... In the injury report, we noted the continued absence of Austin. ... We finished the day with a look at how the Rams could gain the No. 1 overall pick and come out winners before their season finale even begins.

Elsewhere:

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando offered his weekly look at the matchups in Inside Edge.Insider

At stltoday.com, Jeff Gordon writes that while the Rams and Seahawks both spend plenty of time talking, only the Seahawks have truly backed it up so far.

Jim Thomas has a breakdown of all the Rams could gain on Sunday. Thomas also writes that coach Jeff Fisher believes the Rams are closing the gap in the NFC West.

NFL.com provides an early look at the draft with three needs for every team.

Tavon Austin remains out

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin again did not practice Thursday as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

Austin
Austin suffered the injury Dec. 8 against Arizona and has not played or practiced since, missing games against New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Rams coach Jeff Fisher has expressed optimism the past couple of weeks that Austin might be able to return in time to get back on the field, but time is running out for that to happen.

The Rams have one more practice Friday before traveling to Seattle for the season finale. If Austin doesn't at least get some work in at practice, it seems likely his season will end without another appearance.

Elsewhere on the injury report, the Rams were without safety T.J. McDonald because of an illness and running back Daryl Richardson did not practice because of a thigh ailment.

Defensive end Chris Long returned to practice as a full participant after sitting out Wednesday with a thigh injury.

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