Austin relishes St. Louis escape
By Jim Thomas
Despite all his achievements and accolades at West Virginia, wide receiver Tavon Austin didn’t realize how many friends he had until he was chosen eighth overall in the NFL by the Rams two weeks ago.
“Everybody expects a lot of things from you as far as money,” Austin said. “Everybody wants to be around you. My phone doesn’t stop ringing now. It feels like they’re counting my bank account now. So that’s probably the hardest thing for right now — just people.”
People who are coming out of the woodwork, long lost relatives, “cousins” he never knew he had.
“Oh, I’ve got a lot of cousins now,” Austin said. “The whole (city of) Baltimore is my cousin now. We’re just gonna try to keep focused and let my mother and all them handle it.”
Austin, who is from Baltimore, already has changed his phone number.
“So hopefully, it doesn’t get out again or I’m going to change it again,” he said.
Welcome to that fishbowl otherwise known as the National Football League.
With that in mind, Rams Park provided a safe harbor this weekend at rookie minicamp, with long days of meetings, installation periods, weight training, practice and more meetings.
After all the pre-draft hype and buildup, it’s a safe bet that no one assembled at Rams Park was happier to get back to football and back on the field than Austin.
“It means a lot,” he said after Saturday’s practice.
Now, the adjustment process begins.
On Friday and Saturday, Austin and the rest of the offensive players got about a dozen plays each day to learn. The verbiage in each play call is much lengthier than Austin had at West Virginia.
And here, he’s getting the call in the huddle instead of looking at signals on the line of scrimmage as was the case with the Mountaineers.
“You’ve just got to stay in your playbook and when you get out here, don’t worry about messing up,” Austin said.
Helping him out is a familiar face. Fellow wide receiver and former Moutaineers teammate Stedman Bailey now is a Rams teammate.
They have been roommates this weekend and spent Friday night studying the playbook in their hotel room.
The studying apparently paid off because Austin said he had fewer mental errors Saturday than he did Friday.
“I cut ’em down to a minimum,” Austin said. “I made a couple plays today, so I think the day went well.”
Actually, he made more than a couple. Like a lot of skill position players, as well as the defensive backs, Austin had trouble with his footing on more than one occasion on a wet, slippery field Friday.
But it was sunny and dry Saturday, and Austin showcased his speed and quickness during one-on-one and seven-on-seven passing drills.
Blink and you missed him as a defensive back in coverage as Austin came off the line. Trying to keep pace with Austin’s change of directions was an ankle-bending experience. On Friday, one defensive back lost his feet completely and fell down while trying to keep up.
It only took a few minutes watching Austin this weekend to tell why the Rams drafted him.
Meanwhile, Bailey showcased what he does best — namely, going up for the ball, adjusting in flight, and making tough catches. Bailey caught some sideways, in traffic, and even on his back Saturday.
“This is something I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” Bailey said. “So I definitely had butterflies stepping out on the field. But once I got in a little groove, I was able to relax and just play my game.”
With more than 50 other players on the field Friday and Saturday, coach Jeff Fisher didn’t spend a lot of time watching Austin and Bailey.
There were tryout players and undrafted rookies to evaluate. Even so, Fisher liked what he did see of the pair this weekend.
“Smart, competitive, they’re very well coached,” Fisher said. “They did a nice job at West Virginia coaching them with the little detail things — the release on the line of scrimmage, route running. So they’re probably ahead of most from a first-impression standpoint, which is really encouraging for us.
“They’re both learning, and we’re just going to keep dumping offense on them so they can keep being productive over the next couple of weeks.”
Austin and Bailey are good friends and try to help each other out. One thing Fisher took away from that private workout in April was seeing them encouraging each other even though they worked out individually.
“That’s a luxury, actually, to be here with a familiar face,” Bailey said. “Somebody I played with for four years, and we get to experience it all together (in the NFL). That’s a great feeling. We get to push each other and just continue with what we were able to do at West Virginia. So it’s very helpful.”
However, their friendship only goes so far. Austin seemed taken aback when asked if he and Bailey will continue to be roommates once the regular season begins.
“Oh no, we’re definitely not living together,” Austin said, laughing. “He’s going to have his house and I’m going to have mine. We’ll probably definitely live close to each other, but no, we’re not living with each other.”
As they navigate their way toward the start of the 2013 regular season, Austin and Bailey could be making a new friend in former Rams great Torry Holt.
Austin already has talked to Holt on the phone; Bailey has communicated with Holt via Twitter.
“I definitely want to talk to him and try to learn as much as I can from a guy like him,” Bailey said.
Holt spent some time in last training camp working with the wide receivers, so Bailey and Austin could get some face time with the player known as “Big Game” in a couple of months.