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Cowboys Scott Linehan calls Tavon Austin a ‘receiver first’

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Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan talks about how he plans to use his new offensive weapon.

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have completely blown up their wide receiver position group,

OUT: Dez Bryant, Brice Butler, and Ryan Switzer

IN: Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Deonte Thompson, and Tavon Austin

But wait, isn’t Austin technically a running back? After he was traded, the front office described him as a “web-back” who they would use to try to add some juice to the offense and keep the defense honest. Stephen Jones would even attempt to estimate his projected touches for the season.

“I think we can get him the ball — I don’t want to speak for Jason, but I think we can get him the ball a dozen, twenty, two dozen times a game. And then you throw the return game on top of it and I think it’s somebody we can really utilize.”

A dozen? Two dozen? I’m guessing Stephen has never been the guy responsible for getting donuts for everyone.

Clearly, Jones didn’t take the time to do the math before he spoke out about how he would be used as it would be crazy to think Austin would be that involved in the offense. After all, the team has Ezekiel Elliott on the team. Zeke’s taken on a heavy workload so far in his short career and he’s averaged two dozen touches a game. There are not enough touches to go around to give Austin anywhere close to what Stephen suggested.

Of course, Jones is not the coach, and like his father has done many times before - he appears to be getting a little overzealous about his new offensive weapon. Scott Linehan, however, is the coach and he might see things a little differently. For starters, Austin’s primary position is not running back.

“We can use him for a lot of things. He’s a receiver first,” Linehan said from the Cowboys’rookie minicamp on Saturday.

Right after Austin was signed, the comparisons to Lance Dunbar came out. And while Dunbar was listed as a running back, he had more touches as a receiver in the three years he was working under Linehan. Over the years, Linehan has done a good job utilizing players who can be effective both as a rusher and receiver. During his time with the Detroit Lions, he made good use out of the Killer B’s - Best, Bell, and Bush.

  • 2010 - Jahvid Best, 1,042 scrimmage yards, 555 rushing/487 receiving
  • 2012 - Joique Bell, 899 scrimmage yards, 414 rushing/485 receiving
  • 2013 - Reggie Bush, 1,512 scrimmage yards, 1,006 rushing/506 receiving

While all of those players were running backs, they had a significant role in the passing game. Tavon Austin’s most productive season came in 2015 when he had 907 scrimmage yards. He had an even 52/52 split in rushes and receptions. Linehan would give us an idea of how they plan to use him.

“He’s really, in a lot of ways, some of his skill set is as an outside receiver, which is really unique. But he can move around [to the] slot. He can certainly have carries as well as catches from those positions.

”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 Cowboys have added a lot of different pieces to the offense. With Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup expected to have key roles in the receiving game, the targets could be widely dispersed among many different players this year. Austin’s speed make him a dangerous weapon and even if he’s not getting the ball, defenses have to be mindful of his whereabouts. Linehan would go on to explain that he could be used as a decoy as well:

“The goal as you play him is to have him in there for meaningful plays and he could be the No. 1 target or he might be the guy that all eyes are on that you’re really doing something else,” Linehan said. “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 in the draft, I remember years ago in Detroit. It’s going to be exciting having him on our team.”

Austin is just one guy and the Cowboys have several guys. He’s not getting 20+ touches a game, but he doesn’t have to come anywhere close to that to be a dynamic piece to this offense. And for the price of a sixth-round draft pick, Austin’s a steal. How he is used exactly remains to be seen, but Linehan has demonstrated he can capitalize on a players explosiveness. If Austin can stay healthy, he’s going to be fun to watch.