THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Tavon Austin, who costs nearly $15 million toward this year's salary cap, has been on the field for 16 offensive snaps through the Los Angeles Rams' first two games. Eleven Rams skill-position players have seen more action, a list that includes all three tight ends, the backup running back and five other receivers.
First-year head coach Sean McVay said the Rams are still "feeling it out" with Austin.
"Clearly he's special with the ball in his hands and doing some of the different things you guys have seen, with the jet sweeps, playing the running-back position and being able to take some screens," McVay said of the fifth-year player. "But I think he has a lot more in him, just as a complete receiver."
The Rams entered the season hoping to utilize Austin as a deep threat, but the Sammy Watkins acquisition eliminated the need. The move pushed Austin down to no better than fourth on the receiver depth chart, behind Watkins, Robert Woods and rookie slot receiver Cooper Kupp. Austin -- limited by wrist surgery in the spring and a nagging hamstring issue throughout the summer -- has had only eight opportunities to touch the football on offense.
In five of those instances, he came in motion before the snap, either to run a jet sweep or attempt to catch a pass in the flat. He lined up in the backfield and took a handoff two other times and ran a screen once.
McVay said Austin has been "part of the game plans," but the flow of those games has diminished his role. In Week 1 against the Colts, the Rams took a big lead early. In Week 2 against the Redskins, they got only 49 offensive snaps and were never able to achieve an ideal run-pass balance. That all played a part in Austin's involvement, but is there really an opportunity for more?
Austin will hardly ever replace Todd Gurley or any of the Rams' top three receivers on the field. Putting him out there might often mean not utilizing a tight end, be it Tyler Higbee or Gerald Everett. Austin, who has four carries for 14 yards and two catches for 12 yards, will probably have to make most of his impact on punt returns. In Sunday's eventual 27-20 loss to the Redskins, the Rams went to Austin with two of their first five plays from scrimmage, then didn't get him the ball again until the 11-minute mark of the third quarter.
But McVay credited Austin's route-running this week, and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur kept open the possibility of using him as a deep threat from time to time.
"I’ve got to do a good job of being able to put him in those spots, and I think he’s fully capable of that," McVay said. "I think that’s something that is to be determined. You’d like to see his role grow as the season progresses.”