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It’s rare that one of the elder statesmen of a position group has never reaped the benefits of a full NFL offseason, but that is the position Bless Austin finds himself in entering his third season with the Jets.
When New York selected Austin out of Rutgers in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft, he was coming off a second ACL tear and his focus was on rehabbing the injury. Austin’s first summer with the Jets was dedicated to getting healthy and he did not take the field until late in the regular season.
Austin was healthy and ready to go for a full offseason last year until the COVID-19 pandemic crept up and forced offseason activities to a virtual setting. Austin finally got the chance to participate in training camp, but he missed out on OTAs, minicamp and the preseason.
This spring afforded Austin the opportunity to take part in everything an NFL offseason has to offer. The 24-year-old was present at One Jets Drive for OTAs and minicamp, working to impress Robert Saleh, Jeff Ulbrich and the rest of New York’s new defensive coaching staff and improve his game in each phase of Gang Green’s offseason programming.
“It’s definitely a tremendous benefit,” Austin said, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “This is something that you want as a player to take the next step in your game to try and buy as much time as you can to work on certain things that you need to work on from last year before training camp.
“You need things like OTAs where you get to slow it down. There’s no game the next week or the next two weeks. You get to slow it down and really intercept all the information that’s being told, implement it, get the reps and then go into training camp with that knowledge as opposed to learning everything in training camp.”
Austin was, at times, a bright spot for the Jets in a disastrous 2020 season, playing with toughness on a weekly basis and occasionally impressing with his coverage and tackling skills. He has a good chance to hold onto his starting job entering 2021, but first, he will need to show Saleh and Ulbrich that he is up for the task in training camp and the preseason.
The good news for Austin is that he profiles as a fit in New York’s 4-3 defense given his size and length. There is undoubtedly an adjustment going from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme in terms of coverage responsibilities and personnel packages, but Austin’s raw skill set makes him a piece the Jets can plug in as a starter with a good amount of confidence to begin the season.
If Austin continues to develop under Saleh and Ulbrich’s watch, New York could even have itself a key piece to build around at cornerback by year’s end.
“I feel like any system fits me well,” Austin said. “I feel like I have rare ability with my size, but I have the movement, the footwork, the speed, the change of direction and athleticism. Not a lot of other guys in the NFL have the athleticism at my size. It doesn’t matter what scheme I’m in, I’m going to make plays regardless. Having a scheme like this that’s cornerback friendly, it definitely takes the load off and helps you out.”