ORLANDO, Fla. -- The East-West Shrine Game has always been a proving ground for NFL prospects, and this year's event will provide plenty of hopefuls with an opportunity to impress scouts.
While some will attempt to build on the momentum of their senior campaign, others see an opportunity to make amends for a final season gone awry.
Austin, a standout defensive tackle from North Carolina, entered the season regarded as one of the top interior defenders in the 2011 draft class, but missed all of his senior year after being dismissed from the program for violations of NCAA agent benefits, preferential treatment and ethic conduct rules.
While others have bounced back from similar circumstances to be drafted early, the loss of a full season leaves Austin with limited time to convince evaluators that his considerable talent outweighs any character concerns.
As a player, Austin is a talented interior defender with excellent size, strength and power. At 6-foot-2, 312 pounds, he can hold the point against single or double teams, but is athletic enough to get past blockers on slants or stunts. Though he is considered a flash player due to his propensity to take plays off, Austin has the potential to be a dominant force inside when revved up.
Austin must dominate the competition at every opportunity this week. From winning the one-on-one battle in pass rush drills to being an unstoppable force in team drills, it is imperative that his performance stands out. Production is paramount in the minds of evaluators, so an impressive week here could revive his chances as a potential first-round pick.
Still, Austin's off-field performance might ultimately be more important to solidifying his status. His suspension has led to concerns about his character and he must address those issues candidly in interviews with team personnel. More importantly, he must convince scouts that he is a player that views football as a high priority and is willing to put in the time and work needed to maximize his potential. If he fails in that part of the evaluation, he could see his value plummet into the late stages of the second or third round.
Austin has a difficult task ahead of him to win over teams, but he must start the process with an impressive week on and off the field at the East-West Shrine Game.