5 Things Being Said about Tavon Austin
What’s the best way to describe Tavon Austin’s role on the Dallas Cowboys in 2018? If all goes according to plan, he will be like a Swiss Army Knife: a multi-faceted, useful tool that completes many tasks. He’s a wide receiver who is listed on the roster as a running back. Oh, he’s also the kick return specialist.
On the final day of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cowboys traded a 6th round pick to the Rams for Austin. This is the same Rams franchise that made Austin the 8th overall pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. When the Cowboys were able to acquire him for a low-round draft pick, Dallas traded WR/KR Ryan Switzer to the Raiders to open a roster spot for Austin.
Austin is only 5’ 8” tall and 179 pounds, but he’s already made a big impression on teammates and coaches. Here’s a sample of what is being said about Austin around The Star.
Although Austin is officially listed on the Cowboys’ roster as a running back, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan envisions him primarily playing wide receiver.
Scott Linehan, Offensive Coordinator: “We can use him for a lot of things. He’s a receiver first. He’s really, in a lot of way, some of his skill set is as an outside receiver, which is really unique. But he can move around (inside to the) slot. He can certainly have carries as well as catches from those positions.”
(note: Lucky Whitehead, then Ryan Switzer, ran the ‘jet sweep’ from the WR position over the past three seasons).
“He can move into the backfield at times. He’s done that his whole career. He can move into the backfield and hopefully get a matchup where he can run a route that’s typically run by a running back. The goal as you play him is to have him in there for meaningful plays and he could be the #1 target. Or he might be the guy that all eyes are on that you’re really doing something else. It’s going to be fun to see that. He’s been doing some really good things while he’s been in the league.
“We had a vision for him coming out of the draft, I remember, years ago in Detroit (where Linehan was offensive coordinator when Austin was a 1st round pick in 2013). It’s going to be exciting to have him on our team.”
Dak Prescott, Quarterback: “That was a steal we got (via the trade with the Rams). That’s a great guy, a great teammate, and a great football player. What he brings to this team, his personality in the locker room, off-the-field, hanging with the guys. And then what he’s done on the field and what he’s going to do for us on the field will speak for itself. I’m glad we got him.
“He wants to make sure that I can throw him the ball with my eyes closed and he knows where it’s going to be and he’s there at all times. He’s a guy that wants to be better and wants to be great. That’s fun to have.
“The coaches have a great plan. He’s a guy that, if we get the ball in his hands, he’ll score some points and get a bunch of yards in this offense.
During Minicamp, Austin and Dak Prescott connected on a deep pass play on a pump route. That play got WR coach Sanjay Lal excited.
Sanjay Lal, Wide Receivers Coach: “I saw burst, I saw a detailed route runner as he tracked the ball over his outside shoulder. We’ve had limited exposure, but he has shown some really unique traits.”
Lal also praised Austin’s demeanor on the field and in the classroom.
“He has a great sense of humor, so he makes it fun to go in that receiver room. He’s vocal. He will become one of the leaders, I predict, on this team once he gets comfortable.”
Austin is a multi-faceted threat with the ball in his hands, thanks in large part to his speed and quickness. But how many times can the Cowboys get him the ball, especially with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and other new receivers like Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup needing to get involved in the passing game? How does the Cowboys’ personnel department envision Austin’s role and his amount of touches per game?
Stephen Jones, Executive VP & Director of Player Personnel: “He’s a ‘web back’. Jason (Garrett) likes the concept of it in terms of using a ‘web back’. I think we’re going to do some things this year to enhance that role. I think we can get him the ball, and I don’t want to speak for Jason, but I think we can get him the ball a dozen, to twenty, to two-dozen times a game. And then you throw the return game on top of it and I think he’s somebody we can really utilize.
“I think it’s really important for us to have some ‘juice’ to our offense that we can keep the defenses honest in terms of them trying to come up and stack on Zeke and try to suffocate us, if you will. One of the things we wanted to come out of this draft with is to get some vertical threats and get some things (that the opposing defense) has to be honest with.”
Austin has 158 career punt returns in 5 NFL seasons with the Rams. Cole Beasley has 159 career punt returns in 6 seasons with the Cowboys. By trading for Austin, the Cowboys now have two reliable specialists. That’s a luxury for special teams coordinator Keith O’Quinn who has been really impressed with Austin both on-and-off the field, especially in the special teams’ classroom.
Keith O’Quinn, Special Teams Coordinator: “He’s been very impressive on his overall football knowledge, not just what he looked at as a returner, but understanding the techniques and the body positions of the other people on the unit. His overall football IQ is really impressive. He’s a student of the game and a good role model for the young players on special teams.”