For the next 17 weeks of NFL regular season action, I will be previewing both an offensive and defensive rookie who will play a prominent role in his teams weekly match-up. In week 1, we focused on Green Bay Packers Running back Eddie Lacy and Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan. For week 2, the focus will be placed on St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin and Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and their role in Sunday’s match-ups.
Tavon Austin – WR, St. Louis Rams
The 1-0 St. Louis Rams will hit the road on Sunday and face off against the 0-1 Atlanta Falcons in an early season game which carries significant importance to both franchises. For Atlanta, it is almost a must win situation. Their season will be far from over if they drop to 0-2, but the odds will not be in their favor to go on to a successful post-season. In St. Louis, this is a statement game. The Rams have an up and coming team which has begun to feature an explosive passing attack and what better way to announce their arrival to the NFL world than by knocking off last season’s #1 seed in the NFC, Matt Ryan and the dynamic Atlanta Falcons. After a quiet pre-season, Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer placed a larger emphasis on getting the 2013 NFL Draft’s 8th overall pick Tavon Austin more involved in the offense. In the Rams win against the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener, Austin was targeted 7 times in the passing game, catching six, ran a reverse, and was the teams primary punt returner. The disciplined Cardinals defense did a good job keeping him from breaking any big plays, but his presence on the field and the attention he received allowed for a big game by tight end Jared Cook, who torched the Cardinals for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns. Expect Austin to get more and more looks as the season goes on, starting Sunday against the Falcons. The Falcons secondary is young and inexperienced and could be without veteran cornerback Asante Samuel for the second week in a row. This game has the makings of a shootout and a player as electric as Austin, who can make plays in a variety of different ways could be the focus of the St. Louis offensive game plan. Austin is still somewhat raw as a wide receiver, so the Rams try to use the quick passing game to get the ball to him quickly and in space. Look for a heavy dose of bubble screens, slants, and quick outs in order to get Austin matched up in a one on one open field situations. Austin is a threat to score every time the he touches the football and he is already amongst the league’s elite athletes with the ball in his hands. While the Cardinals kept him quiet last week, keep an eye out for his ability in the return game as Austin previously made a name for himself with 5 return touchdowns in his career at West Virginia. With the improved play from the St. Louis offensive line, quarterback Sam Bradford not only has the necessary time to throw, but now also the weapons to attack a defense with. If the Rams expect to keep pace with Matt Ryan and the high flying Atlanta Falcons offense, they are going to need a big day from their first round pick and will not hesitate to feed him the football.
Star Lotulelei – DT, Carolina Panthers
After a heart breaking loss at home to the Seattle Seahawks in week 1, the Carolina Panthers will travel north to face a Buffalo Bills team featuring one of the NFL’s elite rushing offenses. Rookie dual threat quarterback E.J. Manuel joins as balanced and talented a duo as you will find in the NFL, Bills running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. If the Panthers intend on stopping the Bills offensive attack, it will start up front with their defensive line. The most improved position from 2012 to 2013 on the Panthers depth chart is defensive tackle, primarily due to the addition of first round pick Star Lotulelei. Lotulelei joins Dwan Edwards as the starters in the improved Panthers base defense which held the powerful Seahawks running game to under 100 yards rushing in week 1. Lotulelei was able to get 4 solo tackles for himself while keeping rising star and 2012 first round pick Luke Kuechly clean and free to rack up 9 tackles. The Panthers will need a similar effort against the Bills on Sunday, as they hope to slow the running game and place the offensive onus on the rookie Manuel and the passing game. If lotulelei, Edwards, and Kuechly can force the Bills to become one dimensional and throw the football it will enable their talented pass rushing duo of defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy to pin their ears back and go after the young quarterback from Florida State. Lotulelei will be matched up with the Bills talented center/right guard combo of Eric Wood and Kraig Urbik, a pair which thrives in the running game and should test Lotulelei’s ability to anchor at the professional level. It all starts up front in the NFL , and the Panthers invested heavily in the former Utah Ute for match-ups exactly like this.
Check back next week to see if our week 2 Sunday spotlight’s can find their way onto the week 2 All-Rookie team……