Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terrence Austin’s Power Lies In His Returns
By ZAC BOYER | email@example.com
This story appeared on Page B1 of Tuesday’s Free Lance-Star
ASHBURN–The ability to return kickoffs and punts has made Terrence Austin valuable to the Washington Redskins.
At least, that’s the way Austin wants them to see it.
“It’s helping,” Austin, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound receiver, said. “It’s just definitely showing the coaches that I’m versatile and I’ve got some type of value. If I’m able to do that, I can show why I deserve to be on the team.”
A cursory look at the roster demonstrates the need for a multidimensional player. The Redskins will likely keep six receivers on the 53-man roster; Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney are virtually assured spots, Anthony Armstrong is making a strong case to stick around and third-round pick Leonard Hankerson has a claim on a fourth position.
That leaves Austin–who spent much of last season on the practice squad–among those fighting to make the cut.
He returned four punts for 45 yards in the Redskins’ 16-3 victory at Indianapolis on Friday, including a 29-yard return in the first quarter, and served as the primary kick returner (although both Colts kickoffs went for touchbacks).
What Austin did differently Friday, though, was catch passes. Primarily a third-down receiver at UCLA, he had just three catches for 42 yards. Against the Colts, Austin made three catches for 23 yards.
He was electric as a returner at UCLA, where he returned a total of 95 punts over four years and 89 kickoffs in 2008 and 2009, his final two seasons.
“I mean, I’ve been working pretty hard, and I got a little bit better, obviously, because I had a lot more work to do [after] last year,” Austin said. “I got with coach Keenan [McCardell, the wide receivers coach], and did a lot of work on the practice squad last year and just started learning a little bit more about playing and learning my craft at wide receiver.”
The opportunity for Austin to serve in both roles came Friday as the result of Brandon Banks‘ knee injury. Banks, last season’s primary returner, had a 19-yard punt return and a 58-yard kickoff return Aug. 12 against Pittsburgh, but swelling in his surgically repaired left knee kept him out of the Indianapolis game.
Austin also fielded a kickoff but downed it for a touchback in the Pittsburgh game. He caught two passes for 46 yards, including a 38-yard reception from Rex Grossman in the second quarter.
“You just look at him on paper and he doesn’t scream out that he’s going to be an NFL talent, but he is, and that’s because he’s quick, he’s detailed in everything and he’s very dependable,” said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. “Quarterbacks love him, and you’ll go to him in any situation.”
The ability to demonstrate his proficiency in the receiving game is crucial. Banks, who averaged 11.3 yards on 38 punt returns and 25.1 yards on 46 kickoff returns in 13 games last season, was a non-factor as a receiver, catching only two passes for 10 yards.
Out since Aug. 16 with swelling in his surgically repaired left knee, Banks has been undergoing platelet-rich plasma therapy, designed to stimulate healing and lead to a faster recovery.
It’s unlikely that both Banks and Austin will make the team. One option is for the Redskins to place Banks on injured reserve before the season begins, which would allow them to keep his rights without having him occupy a spot on the roster.
Those types of decisions, head coach Mike Shanahan said, are complicated, and they’re not yet ones the team has begun to explore.
“Sometimes you’ll go a little bit deeper at one position than others because of the depth that you have, and you don’t want to put a guy out there who has a chance to be picked up by another football team,” Shanahan said.
“Or, you might just be not very deep at one position, and you might be looking to get somebody from another football team to add to your squad. A lot of variables, and with two games left, it’s really hard to say which direction you’re going to go.”
Kyle Shanahan described Austin as a “gym rat” and said he has shown he has the swagger and confidence required to succeed in the league. Austin’s work ethic has translated, especially with something he’s enjoyed doing.
“I’ve always been catching punts in practice,” Austin said. “That’s something you’ve got to keep practicing. I mean, that’s one of the toughest catches in football, so if you shy away from that for a while, it’s going to be tough getting back into it. I’ve been practicing, and so I didn’t lose a step at all.”