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St. Louis Rams 2013 training camp: Tavon Austin battling for return duties

Tavon Austin might be the Rams' best option for returning kicks and punts, but his role on offense could determine whether or not he takes on that task as well.


The St. Louis Rams are undecided if rookie offensive weapon Tavon Austin will return kicks and punts for the team this season. Special team coach John Fassel said after Sunday's practice that Austin's role on offense would be taken into consideration.

"I think that's to be determined," Fassel said when asked if Austin would be the full-time return man. "We still have a ways to go before that, but that definitely is a factor. What's his load on offense? And then is that too much to do both punts and kickoffs?"

There's no way you can coach it.-John Fassel

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has big plans for the eighth overall pick in this year's draft, as you may have heard. Austin has been working at all three wide receiver positions as well as spending some time in the backfield, something he did with deadly effectiveness at West Virginia.

"The thing with kickoffs nowadays is half the time they're touchbacks," Fassel said. "So, the reps are less than they used to be as far as a returner. But, I think it's to be determined, what's his load on offense and he could be a punt-return, kick-return guy or maybe just one or none based on length of the season and how much work he's getting."

At the moment, the kick return and punt return spots are as wide open as the running back battle. Austin is just one of several players competing for the role.

"I don't think [Jeff Fisher] has said that Tavon or anybody else is or isn't going to be a guy," Fassel noted. "There's tons of practice reps for other guys to step up and show that they can do it as either the starter or the next guy in. But then, obviously, in the preseason games Tavon will get a couple just as well as everybody else."

Danny Amendola had been the Rams' main punt returner. While he was injured last season, the Rams used Autin Pettis 11 times (7.0 yards per return average) and Janoris Jenkins nine times (5.1 yards per return average). Chris Givens (23) and Isaiah Pead (11) handled most of the kick returns last season. Givens had the best mark of the bunch with an average of 23.4 yards per kick return.

Other candidates for the two roles have since been added to the roster. One name to watch throughout camp is undrafted free agent receiver Andrew Helmick, from Lindenwood University in St. Louis. He ran a 4.42 at his pro day, and has been impressive with speed and quickness early in training camp.

Returns are an important area for the Rams to improve this season, and could go a long way toward improving the offense. The Rams had a league-worst average starting position when they got the ball last season, with an average of more than 76 yards to the end zone.

Austin's big play ability was enough to entice the Rams to trade up in the first round this year. The big play ability also makes him the team's best hope for improving the long-suffering return game.

"There's no way you can coach it," Fassel said of Austin's quickness. "You look at it from, if we had to punt to him, he's on another team, what is your concern? There's a lot. He's got a great dimension. He's got breakaway speed, but he's also got the ability that little guys have which is incredible quickness and elusiveness."

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