Tavon Austin progressing from injury; role within Rams offense uncertain

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Tavon Austin has made "huge progress" in his recovery from a hamstring injury and is expected to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 10, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay said Sunday.

Now it's a matter of figuring out how he fits.

"We're going to have to start brainstorming some ways to utilize Tavon in that game, which will be fun," McVay said of Austin, whose role in the offense became uncertain after the acquisition of wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

"The anticipation is he's going to be a part of that game plan. How, exactly, we'll utilize him is going to be some things for us to figure out. But he's going to be part of that for sure," McVay said.

Austin, a fifth-year receiver, won't end up playing in any preseason games, and neither will outside linebacker Robert Quinn, inside linebacker Mark Barron and cornerback Kayvon Webster. But those three, like Austin, will practice these next couple of weeks, and McVay said that "unless something changes in the meantime, they'll be ready to go against Indy."

Temarrick Hemingway, however, won't return any time soon.

Hemingway, the No. 3 tight end behind Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, suffered a fractured fibula when he got rolled up on early in the second quarter of Saturday's 21-19 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Hemingway will have surgery Tuesday and will miss at least a couple months and perhaps the entire season.

Hemingway was a sixth-round pick in 2016 who barely played as a rookie but appeared to have solidified a role in McVay's offense, which has proven to be creative with its use of tight ends.

"That's a big loss for us," McVay said. "It's going to be interesting to see who steps up to fill that void because there's certainly one left by what we had anticipated for Temarrick at the start of the season."

Hemingway's absence means veteran Cory Harkey might now have a role. Harkey has excelled as a run-blocker while lining up at tight end and fullback in five prior seasons, but he doesn't possess the athleticism or the receiving skills of someone such as Hemingway.

Undrafted free agents such as Johnny Mundt and Travis Wilson will also get a chance to fight for that No. 3 spot, but Harkey looks like the odds-on favorite.

"Cory's a reliable player who does bring some versatility to the position," McVay said, "and those are going to be helpful things for us."

Austin, who signed a four-year, $42 million extension last year, spent the entirety of the Rams' offseason program recovering from wrist surgery. He was a full participant early in training camp but quickly suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out. The Rams entered the year hoping to utilize Austin as more of a deep threat, even though he is 5-foot-8 and hasn't proven to be a reliable downfield target.

Watkins now fills that role. The No. 2 receiver is Robert Woods, who came over on a five-year, $34 million contract. The slot receiver is Cooper Kupp, the rookie third-round pick who has impressed since joining the NFL. But Austin is still a threat with the ball in his hands, and he might even be useful catching passes out of the backfield.

Austin won't play in the preseason finale, but McVay said that "if it was a normal game week, I think he would be able to play."

"He's made huge progress with [head athletic trainer Reggie Scott] over the last week, where he's running, reaching some higher speeds on the treadmill and stuff where it's 100 percent of his weight that he's supporting. Those have been some good things."