Part one of a two-part feature focusing on the growth of Redskins receiver Terrence Austin.
Heading into a Week 8 game against the Tennessee Titans in 2010, the Redskins practice squad set to work preparing the starting defense for an unenviable matchup against Pro Bowl receiver Randy Moss.
The Redskins didn’t have a receiver who could replicate Moss’ rangy athleticism, so they turned to the next best thing, an undersized receiver from UCLA named Terrence Austin.
As a member of the scout team, Austin spent most of his rookie year impersonating other players, and with the Titans on the horizon, he was chosen to play the part of one of the greatest receivers in NFL history.
“That was probably the most fun I had that whole year,” Austin laughed. “I would line up -- and I’m 5’10” and Randy Moss is 6’4” -- and [the coaches] gave me the number 84 jersey and they were like, ‘Hey we need you to be Randy Moss this week.’
“I wanted to give [the defense] the best look possible so I tried to emulate Randy Moss out there and I would run and I wouldn’t even get 15 yards down the field and I’d stick my hand up like I was wide open already.”
After being selected by the Redskins in the seventh round of the NFL draft in 2010, Austin landed on their practice squad for the first 11 weeks of his rookie season. His days at Redskins Park were spent trying to mimic an opponent’s gameplan only to go home and devote nights to the memorization of his own team’s playbook.
“I think it’s a lot more work than a guy on the 53 [man roster] would do,” Austin said. “We were trying to give the defense a look that they will see [that] upcoming week and at the same time we were trying to focus on our stuff that we’re learning that week and try to keep up with learning the plays that are installed week by week.”
Double the workload and lesser men might falter, but football is a dream Austin has pursued his whole life. A late season promotion to the 53-man roster led to a spot on the active roster and by the end of the 2010 season, Austin had lived the dream, seeing action in five games.
That brief encounter with the sweet taste of success has the young receiver wanting more as he prepares for his second season in the league. With 10 other receivers vying for roster spots, Austin’s situation isn’t set in stone, but the work ethic he’s possessed his whole career is still there, driving him.
“My whole year I’d been fighting to try and get up [to the active roster] and the reality is once you get up, you have to produce,” he said. “You have to show why you deserve to stay and me, I’m all about competition. I love to compete and I’m used to it and it was nothing new to me. When I got there I understood I was going to be playing special teams and I had to fight to take care of my job to be there next week.”
Year two has him thinking outside the box, finding new ways to give him a leg up on Washington’s crowded receiving corps. He picked up boxing over the offseason to increase his hand speed for beating press coverage and showed his versatility in Friday’s preseason opener, returning and covering kicks.
“[I want] to show coaches that I’m capable and I’m dependable,” he said. “I did some things on special teams [last year] that proved that I can be reliable. Now I just want to be that guy on offense. That guy that coaches are like, ‘We can play Austin because Austin’s dependable.’”
Throughout training camp he’s been exactly that. Austin has rarely dropped a pass and on Friday had a 38-yard reception, which helped set up the Redskins lone touchdown against Pittsburgh.
Coaches are starting to take notice and suddenly Austin isn’t just a guy destined for another year on the practice squad; he could very well make the final roster.
“He’s made a big jump,” said receivers coach Keenan McCardell. “He’s a guy that’s on his game each and every day. He comes out [and] he’s up to compete…I think he’s taken the next step that you would like for a young receiver to take in his second year.”
While Austin’s career has progressed by leaps and bounds, he’ll never be mistaken for Moss. Yet that’s fine by him because if he continues to stand out, he may just get the chance to be himself in 2011.