IRVINE — Deep or short? Inside, outside or in the backfield? The specific role, and route tree, won’t really matter if Rams receiver Tavon Austin can’t stay on the field.
That’s been a challenge since the end of the 2016 season. Austin missed almost all of the on-field work during the Rams’ offseason program because of a wrist injury and this week, three days into training camp at UC Irvine, Austin injured his hamstring and missed practice again Friday.
Austin, a 5-foot-8 speedster, is a linchpin for this Rams’ offense. If he can thrive on outside deep routes, and if Coach Sean McVay can use Austin the way he used DeSean Jackson in Washington, the Rams’ options for getting the ball down field increase significantly. But first, Austin has to stay on the field.
“I know he’s frustrated right now, too, because he’s a guy who wants to be out here,” McVay said after Friday’s practice. “He’s a great competitor. He had an unfortunate injury that caused him to miss the majority of the offseason program, and now this. It’s a little bit of a setback, but the way we look at it is, a setback is a setup for a comeback.”
That’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t do much at the moment for a Rams offense that needs deep threats.
Austin is out, as is 2017 fourth-round draft pick Josh Reynolds, with a quad injury. That leaves, at the top of the depth chart, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Pharoh Cooper, none known for their blinding speed.
Then there’s the fact that the Rams’ top two receivers from 2016, Kenny Britt and Brian Quick, left via free agency. Without Austin, the Rams’ camp roster includes only two receivers (Woods and Bradley Marquez) with more than one year of NFL experience.
“I don’t want to call it a concern,” offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said, “because as coaches, you better learn to adjust to your players that you have on the field. We’re going to play the guys we have, and we’re going to find ways to move the ball.”
To that end, the Rams signed three undrafted free-agent receivers in a span of approximately 24 hours: K.D. Cannon (Baylor), C.J. Germany (Notre Dame College) and Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech).
All three receivers are listed at 5-11 and between 180 to 185 pounds, so they fit a type, and clearly have been brought into camp to provide some downfield targets for quarterbacks Jared Goff, Sean Mannion and Dan Orlovsky. The most intriguing of the three might be Cannon, who already has been…