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Austin Settling In ..
Nick Wagoner Senior Writer
In the more than two weeks since the Rams boldly moved up to No. 8 in the NFL Draft to select him, much has changed for receiver Tavon Austin.
That short window of time has seen Austin prepare to re-locate to St. Louis on a more permanent basis, attempt to start comprehending an offense much different from the one he played in at West Virginia and get ready physically for the rigors of playing at the game’s highest level.
But, more than anything, the biggest adjustment has been dealing with everyone that comes out of the woodwork when fame and imminent fortune show up on the doorstep.
“Just people,” Austin said. “Everybody expects a lot of things from you as far as money. 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 me right now, just people.
“I’ve got a lot of cousins now. The whole (city of) Baltimore is my cousin now. We’re going to just try to keep focused and let my mother and all of them handle it.”
Fortunately for Austin, this week has provided a sort of football oasis, an escape from the worries of outside distractions and the opportunity to bear down and focus on the game he loves that has gone from obsession to profession.
After arriving in St. Louis earlier in the week, Austin has spent his time this week working on understanding the playbook of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, getting to know a whole batch of new teammates and even things as simple as adjusting to practicing on a grass field.
“You’re definitely anxious,” Austin said. “You want to see all the top guys here. The vets come in next week, but you have to first get your mark today. I think we did a pretty good job today, so we’ll keep on going from here.”
Austin’s first practice Friday afternoon was relatively uneventful as he said part of the process was adjusting to a slippery grass field following some afternoon showers.
That’s not to say Austin didn’t have a few highlights on his first day. He showed much of the same speed, agility and change of direction that coach Jeff Fisher and Co. saw when they put him through a private pre-draft workout.
“We did the private workout, so I was down there,” Fisher said. “I’d seen him do a lot more in the workout than I did today. Nothing surprises me about him.”
Near the end of the practice, Austin joined his fellow receivers in working a one-handed catch drill which is intended to get pass catchers to work on finding balance.
“I did it back at pro day,” Austin said. “It was a little hard for me back then, so I kind of just remembered what I did back there and tried to stay square and catch the ball with the shoulder and your arm. That’s what I did today.”
The more difficult part of the transition to the NFL might be going from the wide open, spread based offense of which Austin was a key cog for the Mountaineers to a more sophisticated NFL offense under Schottenheimer.
“(West Virginia Head) Coach (Dana) Holgorsen’s playbook is a little bit different from this one,” Austin said. “We’re coming out of the huddle now. When we were back in West Virginia, we came (from) all signals, so that was a little different – just the terminology. Me and ‘Sted’ (Stedman Bailey), we’re roommates, so we pretty much studied the majority of the night and we came out today and we did a good job today.”
The perpetually practice-busy Austin also spent some time catching punts during the weekend and hopes that he can nail down that job and get the chance to do it this season.
In the meantime, Austin is making it a point to take nothing for granted and respect every player he meets whether it’s a tryout player, an undrafted rookie, one of his fellow draft classmates or a veteran.
“I don’t ever underestimate anybody,” Austin said. “I come out here with the same attitude as if I was playing the vets.”
As for the outsized expectations that come with being the first skill position player taken in this year’s draft, Austin is well aware of what some are looking for but isn’t letting that cloud his progress.
“There’s a little (bit of) high expectations for me because I went No. 8, but at the same time when I come up here I just have fun and pretty much try to do always what I do,” Austin said. “The No. 1 thing is to come up here and make some plays.”
TRICK SNAPS: One of the more interesting players to arrive for this weekend’s rookie minicamp is Canadian long snapper Jorgen Hus.
Hus comes to the Rams as a free agent from Regina University. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native is 6’1, 232 pounds and wouldn’t normally garner much recognition given his position and pedigree.
But Hus actually has some cache, at least among fans, given his YouTube exploits. There, Hus can be seen doing the long snapper equivalent of a trick shot video.
The video shows Hus snapping the ball into the window of a moving car and into a garbage can from long distances, among other things.
While Fisher and Co. have done extensive research on every player they’ve brought in, that was something that has so far eluded him.
“I have not got to that point of the research yet,” Fisher said, laughing. “Someone told me he had 25 tackles or something like that. He’s an athletic guy who can go down and make plays and he did some of that. Their field’s a little bit bigger so he should be pretty good in space.”
STANDING OUT: One player who was unable to participate this weekend was running back Benny Cunningham. The talented back out of Middle Tennessee State signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent after posting some eye popping numbers in 2012.
Cunningham had that season cut short because of a left knee injury. He’s still recovering from that ailment but he’s a player Fisher said continued to show up on film when he was watching other players.
“Yeah he did,” Fisher said. “As we were evaluating some of the defensive players, he kept showing up. For some reason I watched several MTSU offensive games and then as the process moved further and further along, it became apparent that he’s got some good run skills. We contacted him just to see if there was any interest and then once the draft was over we closed the deal.”
WRAPPING UP: The Rams’ short two-day minicamp came to an end on Saturday after the team went through some meetings and a mid-morning practice.
The next order of business for the Rams is determining who if any of the tryout players they want to sign to the roster moving forward.
“Then what happens is we continue with draft choices and those that are under contract, continue to install throughout the offseason and those that we invite back will continue,” Fisher said.
After taking next week as a chance to further integrate the rookies while the veterans get a week off, the entire roster will come together for the start of Organized Team Activities the following week.
From there, they’ll go through the OTAs but there will not be a mandatory minicamp as there was last year. Fisher said he believes this schedule setup allows plenty of time to get the required work done without taxing the team unnecessarily.
"I feel like we can get done what we need to get done in the offseason program using phase one, the phase two skill development days which we are doing now and the 10 OTAs,” Fisher said. “I feel like we can get everything installed. This is the second year in the system now so we can get it installed. They deserve the break in mid-June and they will come back and we'll continue to re-install."
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