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Rams Shifting to Kupp or Cooper to Return Punts

With wide receiver Tavon Austin struggling with ball security, head coach Sean McVay said Monday that the Rams will shift to either Cooper Kupp or Pharoh Cooper as their punt returner.

"Right now, we're going to give Tavon a break from that," McVay said.

Through five games, Austin has committed four fumbles on punt returns — three of which have been recovered by the opponent. With one each occurring against Indianapolis and San Francisco, Austin also muffed a pair of punts in Sunday's loss to the Seahawks. While Austin recovered his fumble in the first quarter, Kupp replaced him to fair catch Seattle's next punt.

Austin, however, was reinserted as Los Angeles' punt returner to start the second quarter and muffed the kick again. This time, Seattle recovered.

Kupp replaced Austin as the returner, fair catching punts for the rest of the game.

"I'm a little scarred up right now. But it's alright," Austin said Sunday. "I'm never going to make excuses, I just have to keep working at it day in and day out. Hope that I can get it back when I'm feeling more comfortable with the ball back there."

Austin added he understood McVay's decision to replace him during the contest.

"I know what's up with me," Austin said. "I did this for four or five years and I probably had two muffs. So it's just a mental thing for me right now. I'm going to keep getting better and better and I'll be alright."

McVay said he felt like Austin's issues were in part mental, but also acknowledged the wide receiver's wrist injury that kept him out of much of the offseason program could be a factor.

"But what you appreciate about Tavon [is] he's not going to make any excuses about it," McVay said. "He's got to field the punts better than that, more consistently, in terms of being able to track it. And he's going to continue to work on it in practice and try to improve moving forward."

Check out some of the best photos from the Week 5 contest against the Seattle Seahawks.

And so for now, McVay said the Rams will have either Kupp or Cooper deep on fourth downs. Kupp stuck with fair catching Sunday's punts, but he returned a punt for a touchdown in each of his last three seasons at Eastern Washington.

Cooper currently leads the league with a 27.1 yard kick return average on 13 attempts. He broke off a 66-yard return in Los Angeles' Week 4 victory over Dallas. Cooper also returned punts at South Carolina.

Austin said Sunday he would like the opportunity to win his job back as a returner. From what McVay said on Monday, it sounds like the wide receiver will get that opportunity at some point.

"That's one of my specialties," Austin said. "Even if not, I'm a team player — stick me in anywhere and hopefully I can make a play for the team. I don't really get into all that stuff."

Until then, McVay said L.A. will continue to use Austin as an offensive weapon. Austin scored his first touchdown of the season on Sunday — a 27-yard run on an inside handoff.

"Tavon is going to continue to remain a big part of our offense,"  I think you look at what he does on the touchdown run — when the ball is in his hands — we've got to find ways to use him. And he's a very good football player. Great playmaker. He'll continue to be that. But in the meantime, while we give him a chance to give him a chance to get some work, get away from it a little bit, we're going to give him a break from the punt return duties."

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