Dallas Cowboys

What’s a web-back? Cowboys have vision for former speedy disappointment Tavon Austin

The Cowboys are calling the newly acquired Tavon Austin a web-back, a dynamic mismatch player out of the backfield.
The Cowboys are calling the newly acquired Tavon Austin a web-back, a dynamic mismatch player out of the backfield. Associated Press

Thus far in his NFL career, the speedy Tavon Austin has been an enigma.

He certainly didn’t give the Los Angeles Rams a return on their investment after being picked eighth overall in 2013.

Austin being traded to the Dallas Cowboys for a sixth-round pick just a month or so after taking a huge pay cut was shocking to him but speaks to the fact the Rams had seemingly given up.

He won’t be coming to the Cowboys as a highly touted first-round pick. He no longer has the pressure to live up to those expectations.

But the Cowboys do plan to use and see him playing an important role in their offense.

Austin, who was slowed in 2017 by a fractured wrist and a hamstring injury, is healthy and ready to go. He passed his physical with the Cowboys on Monday.

Now his role will be defined as web-back rather than a receiver, as he was with the Rams.

He is not a receiver. He will be more a running back who the Cowboys try to use in space, similar to what they did with Lance Dunbar.

“We really felt like Austin, the way it was described to me by (offensive coordinator) Scott (Linehan) and (coach) Jason (Garrett) to Jerry (Jones) and I, we are talking about a back here; a web-back, similar sized in terms of how explosive he could be,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “We intend to use him as a just as we used (Lance) Dunbar in the past. We feel like with Zeke (Elliott) and Rod (Smith) that they fill their role, and Tavon can do some special things for us in addition to being a nice threat in the return game, to say the least.”

So what’s a web-back?

According to Garrett, it’s a dynamic mismatch running back out of the backfield.

“He’s a really talented guy,” Garrett said of Austin. “He was the eighth player taken in the draft in 2013. A dynamic college football player; one of the issues for him has been his size, and how to use him in the NFL. We probably see him as a guy who can be versatile for us. As Stephen referenced, a web-back, a dynamic mismatch running back out of the backfield. Obviously, he played slot. He’s a returner. What you try to do is, try to get the ball in his hands a number of different ways. When we played the Rams this year, they lined him up as a running back. They tried to hand it to him and throw it to him throughout the year. That’s what people tried to do throughout his career. He certainly is a dynamic guy. We just felt like for the value, he could come into our football team and help us add some explosiveness to our offense.”

Linehan has actually had a vision for Austin dating back when he was still with the Detroit Lions and Austin was scouted coming out of college at West Virginia.

He will finally get a chance to put the plan into action, though Jerry Jones’ talk of 24 touches a game seems pretty high.

“As you know, I think we had a real vision for what we could do with him,” Jerry Jones said. ”Scott (Linehan), when he came out, said he actually would look to use something as high as a second on him. That was their vision at the time. Not a first-rounder, but certainly look at him as a web-back. He’s always pushed for that. Jason (Garrett) likes the concept of it in terms of using a web-back. I think we are going to do something this year that may enhance that role. I think we can get him the ball, I won’t speak for Jason, but I think we’ll get him the ball a dozen to 20 times, two dozen times a game, and you throw the return game on top of it, I think it’s somebody we can really utilize. It’s real important for us, in terms of having some juice in our offense. We keep the defenses honest, in terms of them coming up and trying to stack on Zeke (Elliott) and try to suffocate us. One of the things we wanted to come out of this draft with is to get some vertical threats; get some things they have to be honest with.”

Austin was surprised about the trade but happy it was to the Cowboys.

“I didn’t see this coming at all. That’s the business side of it,“ Austin said. “It was a lot of weight off my shoulder (owner Jerry Jones called). That’s the star. The team everyone looks at, the one that’s always on TV. The greats have played there, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith.”

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Austin brings much needed speed to the Cowboys attack, but he has been an enigma so far in the NFL after being selected eighth overall out of West Virginia in 2013. He was supposed to be an x-factor in the Rams offense but never found a consistent role.

He had just 13 catches for 47 yards and 59 rushes for 270 yards in 2017. He has a total of 1,689 yards on 194 catches over five NFL seasons.

Austin blamed his struggles in 2017 on injuries. He suffered a fractured wrist in mini camp that required reconstructive surgery. He then missed all but three days into training camp because of a torn hamstring.

He is fully healthy now and passed the Cowboys physical.

He has a new team with a vision for him and a defined role.

“I am a way better man than I was last year,” Austin said. “It showed me a lot. It showed me the type of man I am and the character I have. I am in a better place. A lot of weight is off my shoulder."

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