Tavon Austin is listed as a running back on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster. That distinction doesn’t matter to offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
"Yeah, well, list him as a tight end. I don’t care what they list him as," Linehan said, jokingly. "Just make sure we’ve got him on the team."
Austin is viewed as a versatile threat for the Cowboys offense. He can line up outside at wide receiver. He can line up in the backfield. He can do it all.
His role has been described as a "web back" by executive vice president Stephen Jones.
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Regardless of his label, the Cowboys just want to make sure he becomes a weapon on offense.
"We feel like we can get him the ball in different ways," Linehan said. "Handing him is the easiest way, so you can call him a running back when we hand him the ball. You can call him a receiver when we’re throwing the ball to him, or a running back when we’re throwing the ball out of the backfield to him.
"The beauty of you not knowing what it is, is the beauty of the other team not knowing what it is, too, you know what I mean?"
Linehan has implemented game plans for versatile players such as Austin in the past. He used Reggie Bush a variety of ways when he had him for a season in Detroit (2013).
But Linehan views Austin and Bush slightly different. Austin has been a wide receiver by trade most of his career and that’s where he starts his day in the meeting room before finding his way to the running backs room.
Bush, meanwhile, had been a running back and spent time in the running backs room before going to the wide receivers.
"They find their way around the building," Linehan said.
The Cowboys view Austin as one of their significant additions in the offseason. They traded for him during this year’s NFL Draft after Austin never lived up to being the eighth overall pick in the 2013 Draft with the Los Angeles Rams.
Austin’s best seasons came in 2015-16. In 2015, he had 473 receiving yards with five receiving TDs and 434 rushing yards with four rushing TDs. In 2016, he had 509 receiving yards with three TDs and 159 rushing yards and one TD.
Austin is also a candidate to become the team’s primary returner. He has 158 career punt returns for an average of 8.4 yards per attempt, and 25 career kickoff returns for an average of 18 yards.
In the end, Austin is ready for whatever role the team throws his way. He could care less about the labels, too.
"It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve been everything in this league so far – running back, receiver, slot, punt returner," Austin said. "The names don’t really define me. I’m just glad to play, compete for a job."