One of the more surprising stories of the Redskins’ preseason is the development of Terrence Austin.
The second-year UCLA product entered training camp as an apparent odd man out at wide receiver, the position for which Washington had signed veterans Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth and drafted Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson. But through solid performances in practice and in preseason games over the past month, Austin appears to be well on his way to securing a roster spot.
Selected in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, Austin, who is generously listed as 5-foot-11 and weighs 175 pounds, spent much of last season on the practice squad before he finally appeared in the last five games of the season. He recorded just three catches for 47 yards.
But in two preseason games, Austin has had five catches for 69 yards and averaged 12.8 yards per punt return. He also has contributed as a gunner on punt teams.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan generally is guarded in his compliments, but when asked about Austin’s play this preseason, the coach said, “I think Terrence is a big-time player. What I mean by that is, he can play special teams, he can play offense, he can play inside positions. I like the way he handles himself. He always has his head in the game.”
Said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan: “Terrence is a football player. He’s gym rat, he’s undersized so I think that’s why he went late in the draft because on paper, he doesn’t scream NFL talent, but he is. It’s because he’s quick, he’s detailed on everything and you can go into him on any situation. Quarterbacks love him. He showed last year what he was, but it takes those guys a little bit of time to figure out the NFL, and to get that swagger. But you can tell he’s got it now.”
Austin spent the offseason working to get stronger and focusing on improving his route-running. Further helping his progress has been the knowledge he has gleaned from veterans Santana Moss, Gaffney and Stallworth.
“I’m the type of kid that likes learning, and will continue to work hard to get whatever success I can,” Austin says.
Because of his size, Austin often is compared to Moss. And because he handles punt and kick return duties, he also finds himself compared to Brandon Banks.
But Austin aims to distinguish himself. Moss rarely is used on special teams, so Austin sees an opening there. Banks lacks the versatility to consistently contribute as a receiver and there are questions about his durability. The bigger Austin appears to be both versatile and durable.
“I think I can add some other type of dimension. A lot of people put me in the same category of a Santana Moss, but I think I can be different than him,” Austin says. “A lot of things are similar, but there are things I can do that’s different from him. But the good thing is, I’m learning a lot from everybody, and whenever I’m called on, I can help.”
Austin continued: “I’m not Banks. I’m definitely not Banks. He’s a special type of kid out there. But I’m a good returner, too. I’ve done stuff and I was successful in college. That’s just college, but I’m here for a reason, and I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t good enough to play.”
Austin doesn’t boast a blazing sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash time like Banks. He clocked times of 4.52 and 4.42 in the 2010 pre-draft evaluations. But he possesses good vision on punt returns, and has the ability to break tackles in the open field. Last week against the Colts, Austin appeared to be stopped for a modest gain, but powered his way through an arm tackle and sped up the sideline for a 29-yard punt return. He believes his determined running style is an asset that can make him more valuable when he is given the opportunity to return kicks and punts.
“I really feel like I’m a different type of runner,” Austin says. “I feel like, when I get the ball, I really have a purpose. I really want to get that first down or extra yardage on returns. I did a lot of tackle-breaking in college that people didn’t expect me to do. There’s so much built up inside of me that I really want to accomplish something. And that’s what drives me to get better.”