Bless Austin is one hard-thinking young man. You can sense that in the way the Jets' second-year cornerback talks about watching film and competing for a position in this year's secondary. And you can really feel it when he reflects on "definitely a pivotal moment" in his young career in Game 15 last year against Pittsburgh.
"It happened because it was situational football and just not understanding the situation in the game," Austin recalled after today's training camp practice. "It's the last play of the half. They only had one more play. Understanding that, they've got to take a shot to the end zone.
"Me having a lack of awareness in that situation is what got me yanked out of the game — which should've happened. You're out there, you're unaware of the situation in a game, you place your team in a bad position to come out victorious. That's what happened, so I learned a lesson from it, and it's time to move on."
Setting the scene once again, the Jets led Pittsburgh, 10-3, with 9 seconds left in the first half and the Steelers on the Jets 29 and out of timeouts. Austin, who started at RCB and played the entire first half, was singled up on WR Diontae Johnson, who took off at the snap and gathered in Mason Rudolph's longball in the end zone with Bless trailing the play.
As the CBS broadcast team summed it up on the replay:
Ian Eagle: Bless Austin was beat on the play.
Dan Fouts: He was blown away on the play. No moves at all by Johnson, just pure speed from 29 yards away.
All this may sound like a lot of piling on Bless, but the story, still unfinished as we head toward the 2020 season, has had some happy developments. Although Austin sat in the second half of that game (and the finale at Buffalo), the Jets prevailed over the Steelers, 16-10.
And in general he had a productive rookie season, considering he sat out the first eight games still rehabbing an a torn ACL sustained in his last season Rutgers. He made six starts and compiled 24 tackles and notched pass defenses in his first four games.
Which brings us to this year's training camp, which Austin got ready for by working at a few different training facilities, including the TEST Football Academy in Martinsville, NJ.
"It's a great facility. I was able to keep my conditioning and my strength up, I didn't have any type of dropoff," Austin said. "I was super-excited, too, because it was one of the first offseasons that I was healthy and got a chance to really get back and continue to build rather than doing it from the ground up again."
Now he's competing with fellow corners Brian Poole, Pierre Desir, Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston, Arthur Maulet and the Jets' rookie CB class headed by fifth-round pick Bryce Hall. A starting job is there to be won ... although Austin, with his different take and laser focus on things, doesn't analyze it quite that way.
"I don't look at it as an opportunity," he said. "I just want to maximize my ability. With me doing that and continuing to progress every day, I will ultimately be able to help the team out regardless of what role I'm in, know what I mean? It's competition, no doubt, but I just want to maximize my ability."
And by maximizing his ability, Bless says that means minimizing any lack of awareness on his part, such as vs. the Steelers. Adam Gase said that's not all talk, either.
"If something bad happens, he moves on to the next play," the coach said. "To me, it's the hardest thing to learn as a young corner. You're going to get beat, it's about how you bounce back, what do you do the next play. ... He's trying to do everything he can to get better."