One day after head coach Sean McVay said the Rams were expecting Tavon Austin to play in the season opener against the Colts, the wide receiver was on the practice field, participating in his first session in weeks.
"He wasn't a full participant. He might have been able to do that, but we're going to be patient with him," McVay said. "He went through the individual drills. He feels good. In terms of letting him go full-speed where he's getting into some of those competitive periods that you just saw, that might be something that we discuss about doing tomorrow with him. But, he's in a good place right now and we feel like if we continue to take those steps, he'll be in great shape to be ready to roll for that Indy game."
"It felt good," Austin said of practicing. "It made me cherish it more, just being out there with the fellas, still learning."
Preparing for this season has been a challenge for Austin, particularly with a new coaching staff. Austin did not participate in the majority of the Los Angeles' offseason program after undergoing wrist surgery, and has been sidelined by a hamstring injury since the first week of training camp.
Given Austin's limited practice time, the fifth-year wideout acknowledged he has some catching up to in order to be at his best on Sept. 10.
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"I know I'll probably be a little bit behind. But for the most part, my competitive-nature side, I feel like it'll take over," Austin said. "And that's the main thing for me. But it is what it is. I've got to take it for how I look at it right now. And eventually I'll catch up. I'll be back on speed."
There may be a silver lining to Austin's situation. Because Austin hasn't been able to participate in the preseason games, there's no tape on how the Rams may deploy him in their offense.
"That's one of the advantages that we do have, if you're going to look at a positive of him not having played this preseason," McVay said. "But one thing that we do know is, he's a special player and we've got to find a way to get him touches and get him involved because in the past, when the ball is in his hands good things have happened. That's what we're going to look to continue to do with him moving forward into the season."
Could Austin appearing in the backfield be part of those plans?
"You know, that's where my love's at.That's where I've been at my whole life," Austin said. "I've never been in the offense yet, so I don't know what's the plan for me. Just have to be ready, and when the ball gets in my hands, do what I do."
While he's mainly been an observer, Austin said he's been able to envision himself in certain plays on the offense.
"I've definitely seen it a couple times, where I've seen a couple routes, or a couple plays that I feel like I definitely would do very good," Austin said. "But it's all about coach McVay and his staff — wherever they need me to play, I just need the ball in my hands eventually. From going from getting the ball a couple times a game every couple games, to whatever I get now — I'm definitely satisfied."
One thing about the offense that's changed since Austin was sidelined a few weeks ago is the acquisition of Sammy Watkins. While Austin had been mentioned as a potential downfield target for the club, he said he wasn't put off at all by the trade.
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"To be honest, it's competition — a brotherly competition, that's how it is," Austin said. "And I called a spade a spade. I haven't been here since the new coaches have gotten here — I only had four days in this offense. So I understand.
"Definitely doesn't mean that they don't still have plans for me. And that's where I'm at with it right now. I'm going to take it day after day," Austin continued. "I know what I'm capable of. I know the things I can do on the field will definitely still help this team."
With Watkins and other additions like Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, Austin said he feels like this is the most talented receiving corps he's played with since entering the league.
"I can honestly say, I feel like this is probably the best group — for various reasons," Austin said. "You've got different type of receivers who can do different things. None of us really are alike in what we do. Everybody brings something different to the table. So it's definitely the best receivers group I've been around. And it's competitive, too. So that's always good for the team."
As for Austin's other mainstay role, the wideout said he wasn't sure if he'd be able to return punts for the season opener.
"But I'm doing everything I can to make some kind of difference in the game," Austin said. "Probably know I won't get too many offensive snaps, just because I haven't been here. I've got to respect it. And that's just what it is.
"But for the most part, if I can get up there and catch some punts, then that's one of my specialties and that's what I love to do," he continued. "If I can do that, then, hey, I'm happy with that, too."