Carrying on with my 2013 Training Camp movement analysis evaluations today I want to drop some thoughts on a guy who is expected to take the NFL by storm, new Rams do-it-all guy, Tavon Austin. In addition, today’s analysis will be a little different because I have not and will not actually be attending Rams camp. Instead, I will be using some other things at my disposal to give the brief rundown. Because Austin has played in only one NFL game at the time of this writing (Note: he will play in his 2nd this evening against the Packers)…a preseason game with very limited action and playing scenarios…I will be looking at his college film and speculating on how I feel as though his movement is going to translate to the game on Sunday.
To say that Austin is intriguing to me is an understatement. Last week, Mike Mayock claimed that Tavon Austin is possibly the most explosive player he has ever seen on a football field. In addition, a number of months ago, Skip Bayless went as far as saying that Austin is the second coming of Barry Sanders in terms of his build, speed, quickness, and athletic ability.
Heck; back when he was drafted Tavon himself compared some of the nuances of his game to Percy Harvin (the guy who I believe to be the best all-around moving athlete in the NFL today). After my analysis, I am not quite willing to go as far as claim that he is necessarily any of these things just yet. However, I am willing to say that he is a very impressive mover to say the least and his movement tendencies will lead to very special things on Sundays for many years to come…and yes, so much so that he ‘may’ be the best moving athlete in the league sometime in the future as long as he can stay healthy for the long haul to do so (the whole ‘staying major injury-free’ take is the story of every NFL player’s lifecycle). So, without further adieu, here is my quick outlook on the young playmaker.
To start, let me offer this quick prediction…just like he did in college, and likely as has done his whole life, he will definitely make people look silly in the League at times. If guys get in the open field with him, sh*t is gonna get downright comical. That all said, it may take Tavon some time and craftiness to learn how to get off the line when physical nickel guys are gonna get their hands on him in ‘attempts’ to negate some of his initial explosive burst whereas in college he was able to be a step and a half ahead of these guys from the get-go. Even though his size hasn’t be a detriment to him as of yet, when playing in the phone booth that the slot has to offer in this day and age in the NFL, it (i.e. his size and/or strength) could hold him back ever-so-slightly. But hey it could actually present its advantages …it works for Wes Welker who has arguably been the best tactical slot receiver in the game for years and who is also around the same relative size. However, Austin is MUCH more explosive in his first 1-3 steps than Welker is to be able to get that initial separation based on the force going to his feet alone without even having to worry about getting an annoying nickel corner’s hands off of him.
Though Bayless wants to compare Austin to Sanders (who is in my opinion the most dynamic mover of all-time), they use different tools in order to accomplish similar goals. The one area that probably does stick out as being similar though is the nature of their perception of what is occurring around them. This quality goes beyond the force going to the ground when they stick their foot into an angle to cut. It’s more about the actual cognitive-brain processing and then muscular control that goes along with it. However, this awareness greatly enhances the rapidity that movement can occur at. While others are still going into their breaks trying to make traditional reads on their opponent’s movement behavior, Austin will already be getting out of his cut.
This prediction of course is based on what Austin did in college. Guys in the NFL have much more enhanced deceleration and change of direction ability than most guys playing at places like Iowa State or Syracuse. Plus, the athletes who are swarming also have a great deal of different physical characteristics to back that increased desire to be at the point of attack. But we must remember that some of this quality I am referring to above is both instinctual and yet also trainable. That all said I predict that though Austin is going to make an immediate impact in the 2013 season the real gold will come 2-3 years from now when he starts to learn the nuances of open-field movement on Sundays. This is what some others refer to as an aspect of the increased ‘speed of the game’ at this level of qualification (i.e. NFL) versus lower levels (i.e. collegiate) but as I am pointing out it goes much deeper than that.
From a deeper movement analysis standpoint, here are some quick points I noticed:
-when in the open field at high movement speeds, there is very little drop in velocity when he has to briefly throw on the brakes and make a move on someone (this quality is elite in the NFL already)
-he utilizes a nasty lunge deceleration/reacceleration position that usually I wouldn’t advocate but in this case I like it because of how quickly he gets into the bottom position once his plant step occurs and how short the last step into the plant (and the first step out of the plant) remain loaded when he does it (therefore not allowing release of energy or wasting time)
-when he has to change direction laterally he pushes his outside plant foot far away from his center of gravity (which is what you want to do as long you have the eccentric strength to control it) which allows for a more extreme angle for slicing in and out of the cut and back to reacceleration
-when he starts to get to greater hip and knee range of motion and depth he starts to allow some energy escape and he starts to toe-out during absorption
-this same toeing out occurs at times in his initial acceleration or a reacceleration position out of deceleration though it usually only happens on steps 1 thru 3 and then straightens out
-the right toe drifts out at further angles which could not only change the kinematics of the joints (and the muscle contraction that controls each of those joints) on that leg but then also require compensations onto the other side
-he maintains very close, short efficient arm action especially in short spaces which I believe will help him adapt to the NFL game more quickly as well
-when at high movement speeds (which in the NFL he likely will only be at during returns) he has short & fast strides due to this elite reactive strength/reactive ability (fast, snappy ground contact)
-his backside mechanics at high speed are very efficient and it appears that he has great front-to-backside symmetry
If I were working with him
When I see an athlete like a Tavon Austin come in and have the ability to make an impact at a position that requires the highest degree of athletic quality, I want to be able to look at the cause and effect of his movement. Meaning, did he get this ability through nature or nurture? How exactly was it all developed and then modified throughout time? How responsible is the physical preparation means and methods used somewhere in the past for developing it? Answering these questions is especially important to someone in my field who is trying to advance how training and mastery is developed in the highest levels of qualification of players.
Of course, he is athletically gifted. One look at the numbers that he put up and this year’s NFL combine and this is becomes a rather obvious statement. I know that Austin trained with well-renowned Florida-based trainer, Tom Shaw, in preparation for his stellar combine performance. Were they able to shave off a small margin of time with his drills? Sure; most likely. But no disrespect to the staff at Tom Shaw’s facility and his approach, but the biggest thing that they likely had to do was simply teach him the nuances of tests. He came into their camp as one of the most explosive athletes they will ever see. They just had to keep him healthy and make sure he knew how I perform the drills to the best of the drill’s ability (i.e. what I refer to as ‘cheating’ the test).
For me, that’s all a moot point because when it comes to attaining the highest level of mastery for an NFL player their on-field performance will come down to movement efficiency while in their environment. There are plenty of guys with Tavon’s tangible attributes (evaluated through quantitative testing) that didn’t pan out on the field. However, I believe Austin will do more than pan out and it’s because of how specialized his movement patterns actually seem to be at each step up the qualification and mastery ladder. How do I know? Well, I looked back to see his actual progression as I was able to find a great deal of highlight films of him in high school.
Ironically the first thing that jumped off of this film wasn’t his very confident swag at that age (Note: which I am actually a fan of as anyone who is balling out at any level can flaunt it a bit) but instead that his movement was a preview of the coming attractions for his future. I will say that it’s often difficult to get a true indication of how athletically proficient a guy is when he is playing with much lesser athletes. On a field like this (with less skilled athletes) these types of superstar potential guys can literally do whatever they want and still embarrass their competition. Just check out high school film from a guy like Adrian Peterson or do yourself a favor and check out Jadeaveon Clowney’s HS film. Of course, this same type of thing was evident in Austin’s high school highlights.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t get something from it especially speculation on cause & effect of movement. When I am watching this film, what I have to do is not pay attention to the low level of athletic mastery that his opponents possess and imagine those players as not even being present (half the time they’re not in the picture anyway). It may sound funny but for athletes of that level it’s close to running drills with cones in a preprogrammed nature when they are competing against guys who don’t have the same type of mastery, instincts, and physical gifts that they do.
From there, I am able to analyze what exactly the athlete is doing biomechanically. This way we can get an idea as to where these movement skills and the intricacies of it were developed. I am trying to get a better idea of what is happening, why it’s happening, and possibly how to go about perfecting as well. I do believe that most of his current movement efficiency is nature-based (i.e. God gifted him with many of his qualities). Thus, if I was working with Tavon I believe he is the perfect candidate for incorporating true ‘Special Strength’ exercises. What I mean by this is that all of his strength training should be based on exactly how his physical characteristics directly correlate to his on-field movement patterns. Nearly all of his training should encompass this type of intensive stimuli and positive impact his already-superior movement qualities. Yes; he should be limiting the use of traditional strength & speed training that most coaches will advocate for him. These types of methods will only inhibit further development for him. Instead, he should continue to work at joint angles and speeds that will allow him to develop transferable strength specific to his unique movement patterns (for example; his lunge change-of-direction pattern).
Do I think Tavon Austin is the second coming of Barry Sanders? No (as I already indicated they move very differently to complete tasks). Do I believe that Tavon Austin is the best athlete in the NFL right now? No. At least not yet. However, he does possess that potential and within a year or two I do believe he can definitely be the guy sitting at the top of that athleticism totem pole. I just don’t believe we can say that yet without seeing him in live, regular season battles of multiple scenarios with guys who are much more cerebral than the guys he faced up on at WVU as well as who have much more athleticism to match-up. Like with any high-level NFL player, the crazy thing is that there is always stuff that they can improve on and actually enhance their on-field performance, as well. The same holds true with Austin.