Rams rookies Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey have something to prove

David Welker

Both players know they have a big role in turning around a struggling offense. They're ready.

This is another busy offseason week for the St. Louis Rams. The team starts OTAs on Tuesday. For the new players, this year's rookie class, this is just another action-packed week in a hectic span that's been going on since January. But at least this week, the players have the coaches and veterans on hand as they dive deeper into the transition from college to the pros.

"Oh man, it's is definitely crazy," Tavon Austin told TST last week at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles, "just to see how many different positions I have to learn. After you relax, you start picking it up, but it's still kind of hard."

To be exact, Austin has three positions to learn. The Rams have him working on the outside as well as anywhere and everywhere on the inside.

"We work with a chip on our shoulder because we want to prove that we're very good wide receivers."-Stedman Bailey

The Rams' first-round pick has a familiar face making the jump with him: former West Virginia teammate and fellow wide receiver Stedman Bailey, who was drafted by the Rams in the third-round. The two are roommates, for now, and helping each other learn offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's playbook.

"We're both learning the playbook together," Bailey said. "We get to quiz each other before we go to sleep, going over everything we went through in practice.

"We understand each other very well," Bailey said of his Mountaineers teammate. "I know his strengths; he knows mine. We use our strengths to our advantage on the field. We work with a chip on our shoulder because we want to prove that we're very good wide receivers."

Star-divide

Bailey compares himself to Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers. Both tend toward the smaller end of the spectrum for players at that position, but over the year's Smith has established himself as one of the most reliable pass catchers in the game.

"He's not the tallest guy around but he makes amazing catches and plays with a chip on his shoulder every snap," Bailey said. "I admire that about him. I try to model my game after him."

Austin doesn't offer a comparison for himself.

Their attitude is exactly what it should be for rookies. Both players are obviously hungry to make their mark on the game, but that's only a starting point.

Star-divide

Jumping from the college game to the NFL isn't easy, especially for wide receivers. Like most teams, the Rams have seen their prospects grapple with the transition. Brian Quick, the first player picked in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, saw his playing time limited during the season after struggling to learn the finer points of the pro game in training camp.

One thing that could work in Austin and Bailey's favor is their college experience. Not only do they come from one of the larger conferences, they honed their craft in Dana Holgosen's Air Raid offense, which gave both players plenty of touches. Bailey felt like that experience would benefit him given the NFL's evolution.

"The NFL is developing into more of a passing league," Bailey said. "That's something that I love. I'm a wide receiver, and that just creates more opportunities for a receiver to make plays."

Obviously, it's not that simple, and more than a few players have struggled coming from a spread offense.

"Throwing a ball around can be hard, so you got the right scheme going," Bailey explained. "The right players in the system. That will benefit players like myself."

The rookies have someone else helping them learn the ropes: quarterback Sam Bradford.

"We ran plays together," Austin said of his new quarterback. "He told me that he'd been watching film on me. He believes in me, and I believe in him. Hopefully, we get a thing going.

"I can see that he's a true leader."

"I love Sam," Bailey said. "He's a great guy, very humble and trying to catch us up in the offense. I'm very appreciative of that."

Star-divide

The Rams improved to 7-8-1 last season after a year with just two wins brought about a full house cleaning. It wasJeff Fisher's first year on the sidelines in St. Louis, the first step in a long road back to relevance. The rookies are well aware of just where the team still needs to go and their role in that plan.

"They have some good wide receivers there," Austin said of his new teammates. "Hopefully, me and Sted can come in there and dig them out of that hole and try to go somewhere with it."

Austin's confidence about his place in turning around this team is quiet, inward. Bailey wears his self-assurance on the outside.

On Thursday afternoon, the first day of the Rookie Premiere, Bailey is answering questions at an East Los Angeles elementary school. He's part of a group of players there for a health and fitness seminar with third and fourth graders.

Bailey turns to head back onto the field. A radio guy extends his mic as far as his arm will take it, trying to get one more sound bite.

"If you've got a Steve Smith and Tavon Austin, that's pretty awesome," the man says.

Bailey stops in his tracks, turns around and gives the guy the his sound bite. I doubt it was the one the DJ expected.

"It's more like a Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin; that's pretty awesome."

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