(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – A month ago, Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was asked whether Tavon Austin, recently acquired in a trade with the Rams, is a wide receiver or running back.
"He's Tavon," Linehan said with a smile. "He can line up anywhere at any time or place."
But exactly how do the Cowboys plan to use their new skill player? How much will he contribute? That's the next item in our preseason preview:
8) What kind of impact will Tavon Austin have?
Mickey Spagnola: Huge. The Cowboys have been searching for this "toy"-type player for several years, and thought they had that guy, until Lance Dunbar couldn't stay healthy. Austin is a double-threat player, and healthy after his injury-riddled season last year with the Rams. But the two previous seasons (2015-16) Austin combined for 110 catches, 982 receiving yards and eight receiving TDs. He also combined for 593 yards rushing on 80 carries and five touchdowns. Those are pretty good numbers for a complementary player. Also, there is the Scott Linehan factor. Think about this: As the Detroit offensive coordinator in 2013, his only season with Reggie Bush, a similar dual-threat player, Bush had his most productive season, combining for a career-high 1,512 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns. Plus, with these new kickoff rules, don't be surprised if Austin lines up deep. His speed and deceptive running skills will make him dangerous in the expanded field space the new rules will afford. So possibly a triple-threat player to make this huge impact.
Rob Phillips:This might be the most intriguing question out of 20. I'm not sure anyone knows for sure, but the same can be said for the entire receiver group – if you want to call Austin a receiver. He says he's simply a playmaker. In L.A. he got more carries than catches, but here's the thing: How often are the Cowboys going to take the ball out of Ezekiel Elliott's hands in running situations? A 'Lance Dunbar type of role' is what we keep hearing. If you look at Dunbar's production in Dallas, he had 94 carries and 68 catches in five seasons while also returning kicks. But before he got hurt in 2015, he was leading the offense in catches (21) through four games. I won't be surprised if Austin a receiver-first for this team, and an option for Dak Prescott in the short passing game with the ability to get yards after catch.
Bryan Broaddus: Jerry Jones put the pressure on Scott Linehan to make this work and he assured him that it would. What's clear is that Austin has bought into the program. After a slow start in the OTAs, he really burst onto the scene during the minicamps. He is saying all the right things and even spending extra time with Dak Prescott and the other receivers throwing in the heat of the day while most players are taking a break. The one thing Austin has is speed, and when they get the ball in his hands, you can see it. He puts a great deal of pressure on defenders to have to get a body on him quickly before he gets going. Don't be surprised if Linehan and new receivers coach Sanjay Lal work him as a true receiver with routes down the field. That is an area where the Rams didn't focus with him and the Cowboys are willing to explore.
Nick Eatman: I'm going to say Austin will be the most impactful veteran addition this team has seen in several years. I know he's not technically a free-agent signing, but he will make a splash to this offense that has been needed for quite some time. I know there is speculation from fans and media about this coaching staff using him the right way. I think you'll plenty of side-to-side plays with him and he could be just as important without the ball, especially if defenses are forced to spread out, opening more running lanes for Zeke.