Three teams in his first three seasons, multiple injuries, and just 11 regular-season games overshadowed the talent he flashed at North Carolina before a suspension wiped out the 2010 season for himself and five teammates -- a group that included last year's NFC sack champion, St. Louis' Robert Quinn.
Austin's clouds began parting when he first arrived in Denver for offseason work after signing with the Broncos. And on a gray, soggy Wednesday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Austin's outlook brightened. Five days of explosive, occasionally dominant play gave him a brief glimpse at
"I was just focused on making sure I played proper technique," said Austin. "Not so much trying out there and trying to make plays, but just go out there, learn the defense -- their tempo is a lot different than the twos and threes.
"I think I did pretty good. (I've) got a lot of work to do. But I’m just happy to play with the D-linemen, (and) get out there. They’re some good players."
The same can be said of Austin. The only downside could be that he's too amped up. A few times during individual drills and team periods, he's been a twitch too eager to attack at the snap and has crossed into the neutral zone too soon. But more often than not, he's on-side, and still attacks and makes contact before the opposing offensive lineman is set.
Franklin, a fellow 2011 second-rounder, had seen this before.
"I remember when I was at guard (in college) I used to play against him every year when Miami played North Carolina," Franklin said. "He’s a backup and he was a great player in college and he’s doing some great things out there for us right now."
That's heady praise from a veteran who has been a starter since the moment he arrived in the NFL. But Austin isn't focused on such compliments.
"I just want to stay humble, keep working and learn from the guys, guys like Vick (
"It’s a great experience," Austin said. "I think the Broncos’ organization takes care of players better than any organization I’ve been to, as far as the strength and conditioning coaches.
"The whole training staff and how they take care of their players and make sure everybody, whether you’re the first guy on the roster or No. 87 or however many guys we’ve got, they make sure everybody’s ready to go for practice. It’s not like that everywhere."
In the live-in-the-now atmosphere of a team with championship expectations, everywhere else doesn't matter for Austin. In Denver, he gets a chance to re-start his career, and grow under a head coach and defensive coordinator who have cultivated defensive tackles before.
The only thing Austin can't control is health. Although he says this is the best he's felt in the NFL, he optimism is cautious. A torn pectoral muscle in 2011 and a back injury last year will do that to a man.
So when he's asked what's next, he can't answer without mentioning his health.
"Just getting better. Playing with better technique in the run game, being more explosive and you know, just staying healthy," he said.
Another injury setback could negate all of his progress. But if he stays upright, the Broncos might have one of their best value pickups in recent years.