Sunday, May 28, 2017

Friday Column: WVUPros in the NFL – Can Tavon Austin catch 100 passes this season?

In this week’s check-in on WVUPros in the NFL, we have updates on Kevin White, Geno Smith, Daryl Worley, K.J. Dillon and more.

K.J. Dillon, Texans – Normally a 5th round pick on the defensive side of the ball isn’t expected to contribute much in their first season beyond playing on special teams. Dillon might be an exception. Will Reeve of believes that Dillon will be a “sneaky good late pick.”

Dillon should help an area of need for the Houston Texans right away. And that’s something you rarely get in a fifth-round pick.

At 6′ tall, 210 pounds he’s perfectly built for the nickel safety position, and given that 65 percent of snaps are being ran out of sub-packages in the NFL today, there’s little doubt Dillon will see the field week one barring something unforeseen or a medical scare.

Daryl Worley, Panthers – In the second week of Panthers’ OTA’s, the rookie Worley is still getting reps at outside corner with the first-team as Carolina looks to replace Josh Norman.

Keith Tandy, Bucs – After OTA’s are finished, players normally have about six weeks before they have to report for training camp. Some players go on a long vacation, others spend time with their families, while others like Quinton Spain, Bruce Irvin and Keith Tandy hold youth football camps for kids.

This summer, Tandy will return to his home state of Kentucky for his annual camp. Read details on his camp here.

White OTAKevin White, Bears – Alshon Jeffery is skipping the team’s voluntary OTA’s, leaving White as the lead receiver. After missing his rookie season with a shin injury, the Bears’ first-round pick from a year ago is getting valuable reps and developing a great rapport with QB Jay Cutler. Chicago named Jeffery as a Franchise Player, but he has yet to sign his tender. He is looking for a long-term deal to remain in the Windy City, but seems to want Dez Bryant-type numbers on his contract. Thus far, Chicago has toed a hard line with Jefferey. One reason could be that they see White as their eventual lead receiver. If Jefferey’s contract situation doesn’t work out, White could be Cutler’s primary target sooner rather than later.

Tavon Austin, Rams – Last year, Austin caught 52 passes. So far this offseason, beyond the move to Los Angeles, the Rams are in the process of re-vamping their offense (I believe I’ve written that statement on the Rams three years in a row at around this time of the year). The focus for the Rams will be on getting RB Todd Gurley the ball and the development of rookie QB Jared Goff. They traded up to take Goff because they love his precision passing.

Last year, beyond pounding the ball inside with Gurley or hitting Austin on the outside with a quick swing pass, the team failed to gain chunks of yards downfield. Head coach Jeff Fisher has an idea of what the Rams want to do this fall, and the former WVU star sounds like he’s going to be the emphasis in the passing game.

“And so when it’s all said and done,” Fisher said, “I think we’ll be able to look back and I think see Tavon maybe double in catches over what he had last year. And that’s the most important thing, is just get the chunks downfield.”

So, if Austin doubles the number of catches he had last year, that would give him over 100 this year. Seeing as how many times they plan on giving the ball to Gurley, for Fisher to achieve that goal, Goff will likely have to target Austin on almost every passing play.

If that happens, and it works, that could be a lot of fun to watch.

Geno Smith, Jets – With contract talks with Ryan Fitzpatrick at a standstill, Geno Smith is once again the starter in New York (for now). A big reason for Smith’s demotion last season sprung from his maturity off the field. After two weeks of OTA’s, Smith’s teammates see that he is maturing.

“He’s an ultimate pro right now,” Brandon Marshall said. “I don’t know if that’s always been the answer [about him]. But I’m just so proud of the kid, because the areas where he’s been challenged, he’s grown and gotten better.”

“I definitely agree,” Jets receiver Calvin Pryor told “He’s always on time. He’s always doing the right things. At first [in previous years], I saw that Geno really didn’t talk to too many people. But now he speaks and he goes about things the right way. That’s what you have to do when you want guys to believe in you. You have to make sure you talk with everyone. You have to have everybody’s trust, everybody believing in you. Because we’re only going to go as far as you’re going to take us, along with this defense. Every great team, you have to see great quarterback play.”

The question with Smith is not his physical tools as a quarterback, it’s his ability to be a leader on and off the field while making the correct in-game decisions. When it comes down to it, if Fitzpatrick doesn’t re-sign, does Smith’s teammates think they can win with the WVU record-breaker at the helm?

“I do,” Pryor said. “He has to believe that as well. I think he’s very confident. Before the [Enemkpali] incident happened last year, I think he was having a great camp. I think he was buying guys in. In this locker room, guys were believing in him. I’m pretty sure everything happens for a reason. He learned from that moment. And I think he’s better. Guys are confident that he can get the job done. He just has to be confident in himself, and I think he is. So far, I’m happy with the results.”



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