When veteran receiver Miles Austin runs a route incorrectly – or the slight bit imperfectly – he’s the first to admit it. Especially to his quarterback.
“We’re always talking and he almost gets down on himself too much,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said Saturday after the Family Day scrimmage. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I know you’re a good receiver.’”
Austin had another good day Saturday, catching three passes from Hoyer for 38 yards, including a 19-yarder. While it continued Austin’s solid start to his first training camp with the Browns, the 30-year-old, two-time former Pro Bowler concentrated on his mistakes.
“I think I did all right,” he said. “I messed up a few routes. I took a few routes deeper than I should have.
“I have to get more comfortable in the offense. My feet are usually one way. Now I’m switching a different way and the timing from what I’m used to is different. I’m getting better and better at it each day and it’s something I just have to continue to work on.”
One of the imperfections resulted in an incompletion over the middle. Austin appeared to take the route too far downfield toward free safety Jim Leonhard, who broke up the pass and would’ve drilled Austin if they weren’t teammates.
“If I don’t get to my depth but he throws the ball where I should have been, obviously it’s my fault,” said Austin, who spent his first eight seasons in Dallas. “I want to let him know that I learned from that mistake and how much it affected me he got an incomplete pass.
“I think it’s important to let a quarterback know you’re going to be there for him and be where you’re supposed to be and get the job done for him and do what you’re supposed to do.”
While Austin dwells on areas for improvement, his coaches and teammates see a big reason for optimism in a questionable receiving corps.
“Miles has been great,” Hoyer said. “He’s a guy who’s been to the Pro Bowl, he knows how the game is played, he knows how to approach everything. He’s always trying to improve.
“I’ve developed a good relationship with him. He’s looked great. You didn’t know what’s going to happen because they limited him in the offseason, so to come out here and see how he’s been playing is awesome.”
General manager Ray Farmer signed Austin on May 15, just days after news broke of All-Pro Josh Gordon’s failed drug test and possible indefinite suspension.
Austin showed up healthy, but the medical staff held him out of offseason practice to work on his conditioning and try to ensure his troublesome hamstrings wouldn’t be a problem when training camp and the season arrived. Austin missed six games in 2011 and five games last year.
“I thought he did a real good job working himself back into football shape,” coach Mike Pettine said.
Austin can’t do an interview without being asked about his hamstrings. He’s altered his pre- and post-workout routines, including adding more stretching, and tries to hydrate more.
“I’m a lot more in tune with what the reps are and what I need to be doing,” he said. “I’m just ready to go at the start of practice.”
If Austin (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) can stay healthy, it would go a long way toward calming the uncertainty at receiver, particularly if Gordon’s suspension sticks and he misses the entire season.
Austin has 301 catches in 106 games, including 58 starts, with 4,481 yards, a 14.9 average and 34 touchdowns. He became the 10th undrafted free agent with two 1,000-yard receiving seasons, earning Pro Bowl nods in 2009 and ’10. He totaled 482 yards in his first three starts — the most in NFL history – fueled by a Cowboys-record 250 in his first start.
“He’s come out here these last couple of days and shown why he was so good in Dallas and he wants to prove that he can stay healthy and make plays,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “Miles is a beast, man. He looks like a linebacker and he’s fast, he’s strong, he snatches everything.
“That is one powerful receiver. He’s big, we joke about how big he is, but he plays at a very fast, aggressive pace. If he’s tentative or nervous or hesitant about the hamstring, then I don’t want to see him at 100 percent because he’s strong to the ball. He’s a really good receiver and if we can get him to play close to the Miles of old, oh, man, we’re going to be all right.”
Pettine has been impressed with Austin’s ability to go up and bring down the ball in traffic, and his knowledge of the game’s finer points.
“He’s a big guy, he runs good routes,” Pettine said. “He’s deceptive and gets in and out of breaks and I think his body type forces defensive backs to sometimes foul him more than they would foul somebody else.
“He’s a veteran guy, great with his hands. He knows how to create separation. When you say ‘crafty veteran,’ that’s him. He knows all the tricks, and he’s still sneaky fast. I think he eats up ground a little more than people expect him to when you see him.”
Gordon’s appeal will continue Monday afternoon, according to a source. As the organization and fan base wait anxiously for the result, Austin has a different focus.
“The only thing I think about every day is trying to get better and help my teammates out learning and doing the best I can,” he said. “I don’t know how my role is going to develop or come to be. I’ve just got to try my best to make it as big as possible and be able to contribute as much as I can.”