Cowboys WR Austin enjoys healthy camp for a change
OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — Miles Austin wishes he’d kept a journal of how he felt during each of his eight training camps with the Dallas Cowboys.
The receiver can be sure of one thing: This year’s entries would be a lot more upbeat than those from the previous two seasons.
Austin hasn’t missed any time because of hamstrings that not only slowed him in camp the past two years but eventually took away his standing as Tony Romo’s top target. The 29-year-old hasn’t been as flashy in California as Dez Bryant, Romo’s new No. 1. But he’s been a steady presence, especially in the slot.
More importantly, Austin’s only idle time in camp has been the routine break given to players with his experience.
“Don’t miss any games,” Austin said when asked about his goals for 2013. “Don’t miss any time. Stay healthy. Play at a high level. Be a deciding factor in winning some of the games this year.”
That last goal is how Austin went from an undrafted free agent out of lower-division Monmouth to a potential star. He had a franchise-record 250 receiving yards in his first start against Kansas City in 2009, including a game-winning 60-yard touchdown in overtime.
The win against the Chiefs started a surge that included the team’s only playoff win since 1996. It also led to consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 18 touchdowns over two years for Austin, who had only 354 yards in his first three years with Dallas.
The hamstring trouble first surfaced in training camp two years ago. Although he got healthy enough to start the first two games — even getting 143 yards and three touchdowns in Week 2 — he was sidelined six of the next 10 games. He had just 346 yards the rest of the year after the big game in a win at San Francisco.
Austin had more trouble with his hamstrings in camp last year. He played in all 16 games and started 15, finishing with a respectable 943 yards. But his six touchdowns were the fewest since the year before his breakout game at Kansas City.
“Miles dealt with a lot of injuries last year and really wasn’t himself,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It has a lot to do with the kind of person he is, to kind of figure it out. It’s good to see him healthier, good to see a spring in his legs, a little bounce in his step. He’s had a good camp.”
Bryant and Laurent Robinson filled the void when Austin’s production dropped way off in 2011. Last year, it was simply a matter of Bryant becoming the go-to receiver the Cowboys hoped they were getting when they gambled on character issues and took him late in the first round in 2010.
While Bryant was downright dominant in the final eight games last season, Austin didn’t have a 100-yard game in that stretch, and just two touchdowns.
He came into this training camp as the clear No. 2, despite getting No. 1 money through the six-year, $54 million contract extension he signed three years ago. Not only did Austin’s production drop off after that signing, but the contract got the Cowboys in salary cap trouble after he signed during the one year the NFL scrapped its cap in 2010.
The Cowboys always maintained they did nothing wrong, but never fought the $10 million penalty. Austin almost assuredly will be with the Cowboys through next season, but the cap numbers turn in favor of them cutting him starting in 2015, raising the question of whether the proverbial clock is ticking for him.
“I’m not sure what clock ...,” Austin said, his thought trailing off. “At the end of the day, our job is just to get better, work hard. And that’s what I focus on every day.”
Coaches say Austin often worked too hard, which was a big part of the problem with his hamstrings. Even though his salary looked like something for a star drafted in the first round, he never stopped practicing like the unknown from a tiny university. Most of the focus with Austin now is on making sure he doesn’t try to do too much, or quality repetitions over quantity, as Garrett put it.
“He’s been communicating honestly,” receivers coach Derek Dooley said. “He never said, ‘I need to take off.’ He never will. We just have to kind of learn the language a little bit. I’ve been proud of how he’s worked and of course be brings a tremendous amount of stability and leadership to the group.”
Now Austin’s just trying to make sure he can keep bringing it to the field.
NOTES: OT James Nelson was released Tuesday, and DE Thaddeus Gibson was claimed off waivers from Tennessee. ... CB Morris Claiborne missed his fourth straight practice with a sore left knee that he jammed on Aug. 6. ... S J.J. Wilcox was away from camp for the third straight day tending to his mother, who is seriously ill. ... S Eric Frampton (hamstring), LB Ernie Sims (groin) and DT Sean Lissemore (groin) are considered day-to-day but unlikely to return before camp breaks Friday.
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