At 5-foot-8, Tavon Austin casts a relatively small shadow, but it’s one that will loom over Rams practice this week as the team enters the final phase of its offseason work.
Austin won’t be on the field. The Rams’ top returning receiver had wrist surgery this month and, presumably, will be ready to return when training camp opens in late July. But these are complicated times for Austin and the Rams’ receivers, and no void goes unfilled in the NFL.
The Rams will hold 10 full-team practices at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks over the next three weeks, with the initial one scheduled for Monday afternoon. Will the Rams figure out how much they need Austin? Or will they see a path toward a future without him?
New coach Sean McVay and General Manager Les Snead have revamped the Rams’ group of receivers. Kenny Britt and Brian Quick departed via free agency. The Rams signed Robert Woods and used two of their first four draft picks on receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds.
Kupp, a third-round pick, was the star of this month’s Rams rookie mini-camp, while Reynolds displayed good length, hands and speed. It’s reasonable to think both receivers could play roles in 2017.
“I think the idea is that we’re expecting some of these guys to contribute,” McVay said, “and they certainly have to earn it and we know that we’re always looking to create competition at all spots. Whoever we think is the best player to give us the best chance to have success, that’s who is going to play.”
It’s reasonable to look down the line and see Woods as a consistent, good-hands, good-blocking receiver, Reynolds as the deep threat and Kupp as the tough inside receiver. So, what about Austin?
Austin, the Rams’ No. 8 overall draft pick in 2013, signed a four-year, $42-million contract extension before last season. In four seasons, though, Austin has never topped 58 receptions or 509 yards.
It’s time for Austin to show something, particularly to a new coach who won’t…