Last season, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were drafted two rounds apart. Austin began to come on strong before injuring his ankle during Week 14 and missing the rest of the season, while Bailey found a bigger role in the offense over the last month. The Rams are hoping for bigger things out of the WVU duo while they find better ways to integrate them into their offense.
Austin finished with 40 catches for 418 yards and 4 TDs. He also had 9 carries for 151 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown and punt return for a TD – which earned another Top Play nomination. Bailey played mostly on special teams during the first eleven games of the season, but came on strong — particularly after Austin went down — and had 15 of his 17 catches on the season come in the last five games. He finished with 226 receiving yards and one rushing touchdown.
Sam Bradford, the Rams starting QB, went down in late October with a torn ACL. That, no doubt, hampered the development of Austin and Bailey as the team had to adapt to a simpler offense on the fly to allow backup Kellen Clemens to step in.
With a healed Bradford, the Rams are expecting bigger things out of the two Mountaineers.
“We expect significant improvement and more contribution from Tavon (Austin) and Stedman (Bailey),” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said.
The Rams traded up to nab Austin at No. 8 in the 2013 NFL Draft, and many predicted he would be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. When he played for the Mountaineers, his speed and quickness allowed him to outrun defenders to the endzone. In the NFL, everyone is bigger, faster and stronger. Austin showed some difficulty in being able to separate himself from would-be tacklers during the first half of the season.
While some expected bigger numbers out of Austin, the Rams were pleased at his performance.
“We’re not disappointed in what his production was last year at all,” Fisher said last week of Austin at the NFL Annual Meeting. “One of the things that was misleading was he had two or three returns called back — one against Dallas — and then he got hurt.
“I think another year in the program, in the offense, OTAs, training camp, you’ll see more production. I think we’ll do a better job of using him now that we know what he’s capable of doing. Kind of looking forward to see him improve from Year One to Year Two.”