Thursday, October 29, 2009

NFL Insider: Tony Romo's No. 1 target? Might be Miles Austin

By Jim Corbett

After following up his breakout game with another two-touchdown encore Sunday, Miles Austin has earned the trust of quarterback Tony Romo and begun to answer the offseason mystery that shrouded the Dallas Cowboys: Who would replace Terrell Owens as their big-play wide receiver?

It turns out the guy no one saw coming has been on the roster for four years, quietly working behind the scenes before the former undrafted free agent burst onto the scene with 16 catches for 421 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back wins.

Discovered by scout Jim Garrett, father of Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, Austin (6-3, 214 pounds) has run with the opportunity to fill T.O.'s void. His big chance came against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 11 with Roy Williams nursing a rib injury.

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Williams was back Sunday but had more drops (two) than catches in the Cowboys' 37-21 rout of the Atlanta Falcons.

Austin? He followed his 10-catch, 250-yard, two-TD effort in a Week 6 win against Kansas City with a team-best six catches for 171 yards and two more TDs against Atlanta. Austin's 59-yard second-quarter TD put the Cowboys ahead to stay 10-7.

"Miles has become a good receiver in the NFL," Romo said. "Before that, the perception of him was a third, fourth, fifth receiver. I think you saw he has the ability to be a guy who can be a big-play receiver.

"I feel very confident in him."

Austin replaced Patrick Crayton in the starting lineup against the Falcons and responded with touchdown grabs of 59 and 22 yards.

It finally seems the Cowboys have a playmaker who can stretch the field and open things underneath for Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, a facet they have lacked since owner Jerry Jones opted to part with Owens.

When Cowboys receivers coach Ray Sherman first saw Austin, a product of tiny Monmouth College (N.J.), he reminded Sherman of former Buffalo Bills receiving star Andre Reed.

Though raw, Austin was an aggressive, fearless route runner with sure hands and explosive production that included 33 touchdowns during his Monmouth career.

Sherman was with the Tennessee Titans when he and then-Cowboys assistant director of pro scouting Brian Gaine attended Austin's 2006 pro day workout at Monmouth.

Sherman lobbied the Titans to draft Austin in the sixth round. He lost that battle but won a year later when he wound up with the Cowboys after Gaine had convinced then-head coach Bill Parcells and scouting director Jeff Ireland to sign the 6-3, 214 Austin, who ran a 4.4-second, 40-yard dash.

"I fought like heck to try and draft him with Tennessee," Sherman said. "Maybe it was the way things were meant to be.

"I was glad to come here to coach him.

"If he continues to work hard, there's no telling what can happen for Miles."

Austin doesn't even consider himself the team's No. 1 receiver, so he's not going to be in Romo's ear demanding the ball, a la T.O., now suffering through a disappointing year with the Buffalo Bills.

"Miles has been doing good things," Romo said. "He's been working hard and waiting on his opportunity.

"He's obviously a big part of this offense. I'm glad to see that all the hard work, time and effort that he put in is paying off.

"He's a good guy, and he deserves what he gets."

Austin's take?

"I can never let myself get comfortable," he said. "The pressure is always going to be there.

"If I play bad next week, you'll say I'm a two-hit wonder."