For Austin, patience is not a virtue, but for right now it might qualify as a necessary evil. Four games into his NFL career, Austin hasn’t had any of his trademark explosive plays, the type of game-changers that he’s made his hallmark since he began playing football.
It’s a frustrating change of pace for Austin to wait around for big things to happen. That’s why he’s leaning on his team to remind him not to try so hard to make something happen that he begins pressing too hard.
“The coaches and other players do a good job of reminding me,” Austin said. “I do want to break out, but this game is a different type of game. I’ve got to be patient with it, and that’s what I will be, and eventually I will break out.”
In the first quarter of his first season, Austin has posted 20 catches for 124 yards with two touchdowns. Playing primarily as a slot receiver, it’s not unusual to have a per catch average under 10 yards, but Austin’s 6.2 average tells us two things: he has yet to break off a big gainer, and he has little to no room to run after the catch.
Those issues are essentially one in the same, and the Rams are well aware that they have to do a better job of scheming and game-planning so Austin isn’t inundated with tacklers as soon as he makes the catch.
“Well, what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to get the run after catch,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’ve got to get him in position to where he’s got a chance to make somebody miss and go. That’s just a matter of continuing to work on things, and maybe experiment with some different things.”
Experimenting would be a welcome change from what we’ve seen so far. Austin’s strength is his speed and ability to elude tacklers in the open field, so it stands to reason that a lot of his work will be done in the short to intermediate areas.
That doesn’t mean the Rams can’t find ways to get him the ball a bit further down the field. So far, Austin is averaging 6.35 air yards per target, which is to say on average he’s a little more than 6 yards down the field when the ball comes his way.
The quick dump-offs and outs are going to be staples of Austin’s game, but ESPN Insiders analyst Louis Riddick believes more innovation is necessary to get Austin rolling.
Riddick said he sees issues all over the offense, including how Austin is being used on routes, the struggles of the offensive line and all other blockers, an offense he views as predictable, and a lack of a running game.
“I don’t really look at it as Tavon’s fault, quite honestly,” Riddick said. “I don’t think the problem really lies with him. It all comes down and piling on one problem after another. It’s making everything seem a little bit worse.”
It’s certainly way too soon to judge any rookie at this point in the season, particularly a rookie receiver. Rare is the wideout that is able to come into the NFL and make an instant impact from Day One.
With a competitive talent such as Austin, it's imperative to ensure he doesn’t get too down on himself for not making that impact every time he touches the ball. It’s up to the Rams’ leaders to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“Obviously, Tavon is an extremely talented player,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “He’s a really good football player. He’s being asked to do some things right now that he’s probably not used to. In West Virginia, everything ran through him. He probably never left a game without eight to 10 touches. So, this is a little bit different for him, but we’ve got to keep him going, because there are things that he does really well, and he’s going to help us.”
Just because he’s learning patience doesn’t mean Austin is sitting around waiting for things to happen, either. He’s working on being more disciplined in his routes, and working hard to improve his knowledge of the system and the route combinations within it.
Last weekend, Austin returned home to Baltimore and surprised his 10-year old brother at his peewee football game. The younger Austin scored the winning points with a touchdown and a 2-point conversion.
Those are the type of impact plays Austin expects of himself every time he plays. It’s easy to see that Austin has the talent to make that type of impact. The hard part is the waiting.
“You know, I have got a lot to learn on my end,” Austin said. “I have got a lot I’m still working on, and hopefully as the games keep going by I’ll get better and better. With how competitive I am, I want to come in and be a top guy on this team and help us win. But I know it will take time and everything will work.”