Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Over the last week or so, we've been taking an in-depth look at the rookie season for each member of the Jets' 2019 rookie class. We continue today with a look at cornerback Bless Austin, who was selected in the sixth round.
For much of the season, Austin was a forgotten man, as he was on the non-football injury list rehabbing a serious knee injury. However, he was activated in November and soon found himself in a starting role after Darryl Roberts got injured and Nate Hairston was benched.
Over the next five weeks, Austin and Arthur Maulet provided the Jets with the most consistent cornerback play the team enjoyed all season and it looked like Austin was establishing himself as a potential starter for 2020 and beyond.
Unfortunately, Austin struggled in the penultimate game of the season and found himself in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' doghouse after he allowed a long touchdown just before halftime in the win over the Steelers. Benched at halftime, Austin didn't even play on special teams in the season finale.
Overall, Austin registered 25 tackles, four passes defended and a forced fumble in his seven appearances, five of which were wins.
The Jets selected Austin with their final pick of the draft knowing that they could have a potential bargain on their hands if he could get healthy. Some draft experts had the former Rutgers product rated as a possible Day 2 pick even after the first of his two ACL tears. The second, suffered in the first game of the 2018 season, sidelined Austin until the middle of last season, but his performances during his first five starts suggested he had fully recovered.
Austin impressed with his length, physicality, closing speed and ball skills once he got onto the field with the Jets. He also made some good tackles to blow up some plays near the line of scrimmage. He only had one penalty and wasn't beaten for a touchdown until the mistake that saw him get benched.
The Jets were obviously satisfied with Austin until that Steelers game, because he remained a starter even as some of the injured players who had previously been ahead of him made their return. Roberts, who basically became the team's de facto number one cornerback once Trumaine Johnson was benched, could have returned to the outside but instead was moved to free safety.
In terms of things Austin might need to work at, he may look to build his strength because he was outmuscled on a few routes and there were some plays where he was taken out by a blocker. He should also work to become a more consistent tackler because he missed a handful of tackles during the season.
However, the main thing Austin will need to show if he's to earn a full-time role in Williams' defense is that he can thrive within a more complex system than the one the Jets played most of the time with him in the lineup. With the secondary dramatically undermanned, Williams opted to play mostly in a basic cover-two style defense which meant his cornerbacks would play a lot of zone and often passed downfield receivers off to the deep safeties.
Ideally, Williams prefers to play a more flexible defense where he can mix up his coverages and attempt to confuse opposing quarterbacks into mistakes. Although Austin managed to hold his own while playing in Williams' simplified scheme, he'll need to convince the coaching staff he has the instincts to play a more varied role and that he won't give up a lot of plays downfield if he's exposed to more man coverage assignments.
Due to the way the season ended, it's difficult to predict Austin's immediate future. He seemed to play well enough to suggest he has the potential to develop into a full-time starter, but will need to get out of Williams' doghouse first. It would be a shame to give up on him prematurely after he had made such an encouraging start, though.
Hopefully, he'll get a completely fresh start in training camp next year, which will be his first full camp. Whether or not he gets a realistic shot at earning a starting role will depend primarily upon who else the team brings in to compete, but his experience during his rookie year should serve him well.