Receiver Tavon Austin returns to practice for Rams, could be ready for Sept. 10 opener
Rams players stopped to greet Tavon Austin before Monday’s workout as the receiver stretched on the field.
Running back Todd Gurley strolled up and offered a hug. Coach Sean McVay patted Austin on the top of his helmet.
Then it was time to finally practice.
For the first time since suffering a hamstring injury on the fourth day of training camp, Austin participated in individual drills.
Austin will not play in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Green Bay but is working toward being available for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
“It makes you cherish it more, I can say that,” Austin said after the workout. “Just being out there with the fellas.”
Before last season, the Rams signed Austin to a four-year, $42-million-extension, a deal that produced minor shock waves through the NFL. Austin went on to catch 58 passes for 509 yards and three touchdowns.
Austin’s role in McVay’s offense was already in question because of a wrist injury that required surgery and prevented him from participating in offseason workouts and minicamps. The hamstring injury added more uncertainty.
The Rams this month traded for Sammy Watkins, a receiver with proven deep-threat capability. The move appeared to signal that Austin would not get the opportunity to prove himself as a vertical threat.
“To be honest, it’s competition,” Austin said of the Watkins acquisition, adding, “Since the new coaches have got here I only have four days in this offense, so I understand.”
Austin said that coaches still have plans for him in the offense.
He has 181 career receptions, 12 for touchdowns, and has rushed for 968 yards and eight touchdowns in 128 carries. He also has returned punts.
“Wherever I land, I know myself,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of and I know the things I can do on the field will definitely still help this team.”
McVay sounded confident that Austin would be ready for the opener — “He’ll be in great shape to be ready to roll for that Indy game,” he said — but Austin said he was “still day-to-day based.”
McVay declined to specify how the Rams might deploy the 5-foot-8, 179-pound Austin. He did add some spin, though, saying that Austin’s absence from preseason games could work to the Rams’ advantage because opponents won’t know how the Rams plan to use him.
“We’re still figuring that out as a staff,” McVay said. “But one thing that we do know is, he’s a special player and we’ve got to find a way to get him touches.”
The Rams receivers group includes Austin, Watkins, Robert Woods, rookies Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds and second-year pros Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas among others.
Austin, the eighth player selected in the 2013 draft, said it was the best and most versatile group of receivers the Rams have had during his career.
“A couple years we’ve been here we only had two or three guys that [opponents] would be looking at,” he said. “Now they’ve got to defend the whole field.”
Austin will go into the season without having run a play in McVay’s offense during a game. But he has observed some that fit his skill set.
“It’s all about coach McVay and his staff,” he said. “Wherever they need me to play, I just need the ball in my hands eventually.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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