With wide receiver Tavon Austin out until training camp after undergoing a recent surgery, the Rams will have an opportunity to take a look at other players not just on offense, but also at punt returner.
Asked on Saturday if Austin will continue to be Los Angeles’ primary punt returner, head coach Sean McVay appeared to want to keep his options open.
“I think when you look at it, he’s done a great job with that. Certainly it’s going to be something that moving forward every single day, we’re going to figure that out,” McVay said. “Anytime that you’ve got a guy like him that can create with the ball in his hands, you want to be able to create those opportunities.
“But, I know there’s other players in place that can do that as well,” McVay continued, adding special teams coordinator John Fassel “is doing a good job of kind of being able to keep that open where you’ve got some guys in those spots. And that will be determined at a later date.”
Austin has averaged 8.7 yards per return since entering the league in 2013. He returned a punt for a touchdown in each of his first three NFL seasons.
Aside from Austin, McVay mentioned second-year wideout Pharoh Cooper as a potential returner.
“I think anytime that you’re looking at those guys that touch the ball and then if there’s somebody in the secondary,” McVay said. “I think you mentioned it with Tavon and Pharoh and then depending upon what we do with some of these college free agents, whether it’s guys that have done it in their past, they might add themselves into the mix. But right now you feel good about those guys.”
So who else currently on Los Angeles’ roster has experience returning punts?
Third-round pick Cooper Kupp has plenty, having returned a punt for a touchdown his last three years at Eastern Washington. He averaged 17.0 yards on 25 returns in his college career.
The Rams signed Northwestern State’s Shakeir Ryan on Monday after the undrafted rookie apparently impressed in his tryout over the weekend’s minicamp. Ryan averaged 10.1 yards per punt return in his senior season and ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at his pro day.
Wide receiver Paul McRoberts averaged 11.6 yards per return and had a 69-yard touchdown in his final season at Southeast Missouri State. Cornerback Aarion Penton returned 15 punts his junior year at Mizzou, including one for a touchdown. And wideout Nelson Spruce also returned 33 punts in his Colorado career.
And so by the time training camp rolls around, Los Angeles may not change punt returners at all. But at least for the rest of the offseason program, the club will get a good opportunity to thoroughly evaluate its options.
Check out the best shots from the Rams rookies second practice in Thousand Oaks, California. Photos by Jeff Lewis.