- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Terrence Austin remembers last year’s final cutdown day so vividly because the disappointment was so powerful.

His family had phoned from California on that early September afternoon to hear the latest update on whether he had made the Washington Redskins’ 53-man roster. He told them he was waiting to hear from someone at Redskins Park. “No call is supposed to be a good thing,” he explained.

Austin knew some of his teammates had been told they were cut. Maybe the team was finished alerting the unfortunate dozens. Maybe he had beaten the odds as a seventh-round draft pick.

He hung up with his family, telling them he’d call back after he packed a few bags.

“As soon as I hung up the phone, they called and said, ‘We got to let you go,’ ” Austin recalled.

One year later, Austin is working to avoid the same fate. He has positioned himself well with strong performances in the Redskins’ first two preseason games, but he remembers that being the team’s leading receiver last preseason wasn’t enough to secure a roster spot.

“It’s a humbling experience,” he said. “I’ll never forget it. I try to remember that every day so it keeps me level and honest about what I do.”

Austin eventually was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster last season and finished with three catches. It was a significant accomplishment but nothing that would convince coaches they were set at the position.

The Redskins fortified their depth by drafting three receivers. Then they traded for Jabar Gaffney and signed free agent Donte Stallworth. What was new was interesting. Whatever spotlight remained on Austin after his modest rookie season faded.

Halfway through the preseason, though, he has pushed his way toward the front in the receivers’ competition. His five catches are tied for third-most on the team. His 69 yards are tied for second.

“He’s a guy that shows up every day,” receivers coach Keenan McCardell said. “My big thing is consistency kills in this league. Guys that get in trouble are guys that give you one week and disappear for five weeks, come back, disappear again. If you’re a consistent guy being a professional and doing the right things, you’ll be a great pro.”

Austin’s stats reflect his consistency and his growth. He left Ashburn after his rookie season with a list of shortcomings and addressed them.

He is 175 pounds and generously listed at 5-foot-11. That doesn’t match up well with many cornerbacks, especially when blocking, so he trained to build upper body strength.

He saw how defenders would jam him and disrupt his release off the snap, so he tried to quicken his hands by boxing in the offseason.

“He’s grown tremendously,” receiver Santana Moss said. “You can tell that just watching him.”

Austin also made it a point last season to pick McCardell’s brain whenever possible. Subtle lessons helped him refine his game.

“If I was going in motion and a guy was following me and obviously it was man coverage, he’d say, ‘Give a little stutter to slow him down, and then when they say hike you’ll get a jump on him before the play even starts,’ ” Austin said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even think of it like that.’ “

The production speaks for itself. With the Redskins facing third-and-4 last Friday against Indianapolis, Austin was the receiver quarterback John Beck targeted.

Austin got inside the cornerback and slanted in. Beck’s throw was perfect, and Austin caught it with the defender on his back. Eleven-yard completion. First down.

Such plays help build his case for a roster spot, one that has become more convincing by the week. Maybe Austin’s phone will stay silent this year on the first Saturday in September.

“As long as he’s doing what he’s doing,” Moss said, “he shouldn’t have a problem.”

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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