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What's Tavon Austin's Role in Rams New Offense?

Posted May 15, 2017

While WR Tavon Austin will not participate fully in OTAs after undergoing surgery, OC Matt LaFleur said he's seen Austin's ability to be a potential downfield threat.

Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin recently underwent a surgery that will sideline him for the rest of the offseason program. And while that’s not ideal — particularly as Los Angeles installs a new offense under head coach Sean McVay — Austin will still be able to participate in many aspects of OTAs and minicamp.

“You wish he wish he was going to be able to take place in some of these workouts,” McVay said Saturday. “But, I think we’ve got a plan in place to be able to make sure that he’s not going to lose anything from a mental approach. Then because it is an upper-body thing, you can still do a lot of the things in your lower half — stay in shape, run the routes.”

McVay said he wasn’t quite sure when the injury occurred, whether it was during a workout or something lingering from last season.

“Either way, he sustained it and we got it fixed and now we’re moving forward,” McVay said. “It’s something that you’d love him to be a part of it, but I think we feel good about the plan that we’ve got in place for him — where it’s something that we’ll just work through it, as opposed to letting it be something that really affects our ability to move forward as an offense with Tavon.”

A 2013 first-round pick, Austin has recorded 2,610 career yards from scrimmage and 20 rushing and receiving touchdowns. While he received a career high 106 targets in 2016, his overall production took a dip to 668 yards from scrimmage from 907 in 2015.

And so the task for McVay and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur is to maximize Austin’s talents in their scheme. With Austin’s speed, he’s long been considered a potential downfield threat. But have his new coaches seen that ability?

“We only had him for a limited time before he had the surgery, but you could definitely see and feel his speed,” LaFleur said. “When you look at what Washington was able to do and what Atlanta was able to do and the explosive plays, it all starts with having speed at that receiver position, which is something he possesses. Great guy, is attentive each day, so we’re excited to give him those opportunities.”

Austin’s potential role in Los Angeles’ offense has drawn comparisons to former Washington receiver DeSean Jackson and Atlanta’s Taylor Gabriel — both of whom are smaller in stature, much like Austin. Nevertheless, they both recorded numerous explosive plays. Jackson led the league with 17.9 yards per reception in 2016, and Gabriel was close behind coming in at 16.5 yards per reception.

That’s why LaFleur said coaches are more concerned with how a receiver can separate and catch more than size when it comes to being a downfield threat.

“I know last year in Atlanta, they used Taylor Gabriel and he’s not the tallest guy, but he could get open and he was electric with the ball in his hands,” LaFleur said. “So hopefully we can get Tavon going the same way.”