By Cedric Williams
In his five-year NFL career, Los Angeles Rams punt return man Tavon Austin has been a spectacular player—at times. And at other times, Austin has been shaky, aggravating, and infuriating as the Rams’ primary punt returner, which has been highlighted by struggles lately to even field kicks that come his way.
Those issues reared their ugly head twice last Sunday, when Austin muffed a pair of punts, one of which he lost for a key turnover in LA’s eventual 16-10 loss to the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks.
And because of those struggles, Rams head coach Sean McVay announced earlier this week his decision to bench Austin as LA’s primary punt return man. Rookie Cooper Kupp or second-year man Pharoh Cooper are expected to be the primary choices to replace Austin on punt returns beginning this Sunday, when the Rams will play the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We’re going to give Tavon a break from that,” McVay said, without naming an official replacement.
The announcement came as a bit of a surprise, especially with Austin’s reputation for being one of the Rams’ best big play guys. But, with the two muffs on Sunday, Austin now has four muffed or dropped punts in five games this season, with three of them being recovered by the opposing team.
Those numbers aren’t good, and they even have Austin admitting that he’s beginning to feel bothered by the drops himself.
“I’m a little bit scarred up right now,” Austin said. “Never going to make excuses. Just gotta keep working at it day in and day out, hoping I get it back when I’m feeling more comfortable catching the ball back there.
“I’m true to myself, and I understand what’s going on,” Austin said. “I know what’s up with me. I did this for four or five years; I probably had two muffs. So it’s just a mental thing for me. I just have to keep getting better and better, and I’ll be all right.”
McVay didn’t say that Austin had lost his job for the rest of the season. But he did say that Austin, who has been recovering from offseason wrist surgery, would have to regain his confidence before he got his job back.
“He’s got to field the punts better than that more consistently in terms of being able to track it,” McVay said. “He’s going to continue to work on that in practice… I think that you can just get in your head a little bit. “You know the wrist thing is probably part of it. But what you appreciate about Tavon (is) he’s not going to make any excuses about it.”