The Dallas Cowboys have been very clear, Tavon Austin is more than a gadget guy – he’s a web back. Here’s what to expect…
When the Dallas Cowboys acquired Tavon Austin from the Los Angeles Rams they were quick to dub him their new “web back”. Austin, since being drafted eighth overall, has been a jack-of-all-trades in the NFL. He’s been a halfback, receiver, and return man with the Rams so it’s only natural to assume those roles will continue with Dallas.
But the “web back” title is a new one for him, and consequently comes with a new job description. Was the web back just a glorified gadget guy or would he be something more? Over the past few weeks, we think we figured that out…
Describing the role
Immediately following the move to add Tavon, Stephen Jones spoke to the media:
"“We intend to use him just like we’ve used Dunbar in the past”."
Then the head scratching started when Stephen Jones said this:
Stephen Jones essentially said he was planning for Tavon Austin to get anywhere from 12-24 touches per game. Not 12-24 snaps, like the Dallas Cowboys used to use Dunbar, but 12-24 TOUCHES.
Clearly the web back was something new. Clearly it was more than the old Dunbar role. And if it really does get 12-24 touched per game, it’s going to have to come a variety of ways.
Tavon is a receiver first, running back second, NOT just a gadget guy
It’s clear the Dallas Cowboys aren’t getting hung up on labels. They have even said we could classify Tavon as tight end for all they care. But a telling statement from receivers coach Sanjay Lal may help us understand his role, and similarly his classification, a little better.
"“We don’t care what you call him, but he’s in the receiver meeting. I think when he gets his feet under him, he can be like a regular receiver. I mean that as a complement – not just a gadget guy. The more we use him at receiver, the more it opens up all the other stuff he can do. That’s the number one goal, get him in a true receiver position and let him go from there.”"
This isn’t to say Tavon won’t get carries. It just means receiver is his focus. He may line up in the slot or in the backfield, but running routes will probably be job one. From there other things will spawn.
What is a web back?
The label the Dallas Cowboys repeatedly use to describe Tavon Austin is “web back”. Web back is part receiver, part running back, and part gadget guy. His primary job is to stretch the field (like a web).
On game day, it’s not surprising that opponents typically pack the box to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the ground game. The way to stop that is by making those over-committed defenses pay for neglecting the other areas of the field. Last season the Cowboys lacked the speed to do so. This season they have Tavon
Tavon is going to help Zeke just as much as he’s going to help Dak. He’s going to run those jet sweeps half-a-dozen times per game like Lucky Whitehead used to. He’s going to drift off into the flat on the backside of a play. He’s going to find space in those shallow crossing routes as a late progression.
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All of what he does is meant to stretch the field…like a web. If Tavon is faking a jet sweep, defenses are going to be hesitant to focus all their energy on Zeke up the middle. If Tavon is drifting off on the backside of the play, defenses are going to pay attention for fear of a misdirection screen to the diminutive lightning bolt. He’s going to stretch the field.
When Zeke takes the ball right, Tavon will be going left. When Zeke runs inside, Tavon will be outside. When Zeke’s in pass protection, Tavon will be running a shallow route. He’s going to be used with Zeke more than he’ll be used in place of Zeke.
How many touches will Tavon Austin really get? It would be shocking if it was in the 12-24 range previously indicated but his impact will be every bit as important.
Even when Tavon doesn’t get the ball he’ll be making an impact. The last thing defenses want to see is Tavon Austin with the ball in the open field. Tavon will be exploiting that fear and stretching out those otherwise over-committed defenses
The Dallas Cowboys are grooming Tavon as a receiver because that’s where he’s going to make the biggest impact alongside Zeke. But jet sweeps, bubble screens, and drag routes will be a regular job duty for the former Ram.
Tavon Austin is going to have a large role on the Dallas Cowboys with and without the ball in his hands. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him average six receptions and three runs per game to go along with those punt returns, but being the “web” on this offense will be his greatest responsibility.