GREEN BAY – Step 1 was getting healthy again.
Before any type of comeback could be mounted, Tavon Austin wanted to take time to properly heal the knee injury that ended the eighth-year receiver's shot at making San Francisco's 53-man roster coming out of training camp this past summer.
Once that happened, roughly three weeks ago, Austin began pushing his body in workouts again – and surveying the NFL landscape. Finally, after 10 weeks of inactivity, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound receiver fielded a call from the Packers.
Five days of COVID-19 testing and one successful tryout later, Austin is back on an NFL roster in a move Green Bay hopes could provide a comparable late-season boost to the acquisition of Tyler Ervin last December.
A veteran of 95 career regular-season games with more than 5,800 all-purpose yards, Austin brings strong credentials to Green Bay. Should he suit up this Sunday against Philadelphia, Austin will be the highest drafted receiver (eighth overall in 2013) to wear a Packers uniform since Desmond Howard.
Austin, who wore a No. 16 jersey during his first practice in Green Bay on Wednesday, feels like this is a dream-come-true scenario given the Packers' 8-3 record and an opportunity to play with a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Aaron Rodgers.
"One thing I can say is I'm thankful," said Austin on Wednesday. "It's been a long road for me through my injuries. It's been a long road for somebody just really trusting in me. I've had nine quarterbacks in eight years and about four or five different offensive systems. I've never really been in a steady place. I'm just glad I'm finally here with Aaron and hopefully he grows trust in me."
Austin spent his first five seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, a stint in which he crossed paths with both current Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans (2013-15) and Head Coach Matt LaFleur, his offensive coordinator in 2017.
Austin showed a lot of promise in his first three seasons and is regarded as one of several offensive playmakers, including former Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who ushered in a wave of creativity centered on their hybrid attributes.
Now 30, Austin maintains he still has the 4.3 speed that made him the first skill-position player drafted in 2013. He offers his successful workout with the Packers as Exhibit A of his enduring explosiveness.
"It's just about somebody really giving me the chance and really believing in me and letting me get comfortable, and letting Ta do what he do best, how I did my whole life," Austin said. "I can play any position that the coaches draw up for me and put me in the best position to make plays."
As much promise as Austin showed early on, a rash of injuries and coaching changes halted his momentum. Austin missed 11 games the past two years in Dallas.
Stability was one of the driving forces in his decision to sign with Green Bay, and based on LaFleur's success with the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Ervin, it appears the Packers' use of pre-snap motions and bunch formations cater well to Austin's skill set.
Rodgers has long admired Austin's game, recalling how "electric" the receiver was during his time at West Virginia, a record-breaking run that culminated in Austin recording 2,910 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior in 2012.
"I think that had this offense really been going (at the start of Austin's career), I think he really would have found a sticking spot for a long time," Rodgers said. "Being a guy who can do so many things, you know, giving him fly sweeps and getting him in action stuff, getting him on the edge. So it's nice having him."
Austin doesn't believe the learning curve in LaFleur's offense should be too steep, especially after the crash course he took in Kyle Shanahan's scheme three months ago with the 49ers.
Regardless, Austin could very well provide an immediate boost to Green Bay's special teams and return units depending on the health status of Ervin, who has missed four of the past six games with wrist and rib injuries.
Austin has returned punts throughout his NFL career, including a stretch where he returned one for a touchdown in each of his first three seasons. He also could be an option on kickoffs, though Austin hasn't done it with regularity since his rookie year.
"Punt return (has) always been my thing," Austin said. "As soon as the coaches feel like it's time for me, hopefully I get back there and can get a spark and get this special teams rolling. That'd be one of the big parts I can come to this team about. So just slowly working in, and hopefully my day (will) come."
For as much as Austin carried the ball with the Rams – 184 times for 1,238 yards in five seasons – he's never been immersed in an offense quite like LaFleur's.
The idea of finding a system that enhances his natural tools excites him. As he settles in, Austin feels Green Bay could be the perfect place to get his NFL career back on track.
"I started rising week after week (in San Francisco). That's my plan over here," Austin said. "Hopefully as the weeks keep going on, they start seeing more and more tape of the real Ta, the old Ta. That's my whole plan with this whole thing."