First-round pick Austin shows off his versatility in Rams' scrimmage

News-DemocratAugust 3, 2013 

— Rams rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin's first impression of the Edward Jones Dome was definitely favorable.

"I felt faster on the turf today,'' Austin said. "I felt like I was back at West Virginia. It felt good to go out here today and make a couple of plays and show the fans what I can do.''

Austin, the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft out of West Virginia, caught several passes during the Rams' scrimmage, including a long gain during a two-minute drill.

Austin even lined up in the backfield and took a hand-off on one play during 11-on-11 drills.

"He has a lot of ability and he can do a lot of different things,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "Whether we continue that stuff in the regular season, I don't know, but it's kind of fun to play around with.''

Austin, who played running back at Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Md., was excited about getting to showcase his versatility.

"That's where my heart has always been -- running back,'' Austin said. "Hopefully, they put me back there and a I get a couple of carries a game, but for the most part, my home right now is slot receiver.''

Austin said he played in a domed stadium only once in college.

"Syracuse, and that was an L,'' Austin said, referring to West Virginia's 49-23 loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in 2011. "Hopefully, I won't take any L's in here.''

A crowd estimated at about 15,000 turned out for the Rams' scrimmage and FanFest on Saturday.

Fisher said he could feel a greater buzz surrounding the team as it tries to build upon last season's 7-8-1 record.

"I would make an assumption that the expectation level is much higher than it was, and that's fair assumption because that's where we are, too,'' Fisher said.

The successful two-minute drive was definitely the highlight for the starting offense. It ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback San Bradford to tight end Jared Cook with only seven seconds left on the clock.

"I think that was a great drive for us,'' Bradford said. "Having to go pretty much the full length of the field and needing a touchdown, that was a big drive. It was good to see us put something like that together.''

Bradford said he's developed a comfort level with Cook, who was signed as a free agent from the Tennessee Titans during the offseason.

"I trust Jared,'' Bradford said. " I have all the trust that when I put the ball up there, he is going to go get it.''

The Rams got dressed in the visiting locker room because fans were getting tours through the home locker room.

The scrimmage started with a special teams session.

Fans cheered as Isaiah Pead returned a kickoff for a touchdown even though the coverage unit wasn't allowed to tackle.

Austin later showed off some of his shiftiness on another long kickoff return.

One-on-one blocking drills and 7-on-7 red zone passing drills followed the special teams period.

Rookie safety T.J. McDonald had an interception on a pass that deflected off Bradford's intended receiver during the passing drills.

Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein connected on all four of his field goal attempts -- 34, 38, 46 and 52 yards -- before moving back and taking two attempts at a 64-yarder during a second special teams session.

The NFL record for longest field goal is 63 yards, and although Zuerlein had enough distance on his two kicks, they were both wide left.

Zac Stacy, a rookie running back out of Vanderbilt, had a couple of strong runs.

A bright spot for the defense was safety Rashard Hall, who batted down a pass by Kellen Clemens and later intercepted a pass by Timothy Jenkins.

Rams players are off Sunday before returning to the practice field Monday, as they continue to prepare for their preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

"Ask me after Thursday night,'' Fisher said when asked about how he felt about his team's state of readiness. "It's hard to judge. We know what to do, we know how to do it, but how we match up against another opponent, I don't know.''

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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