After an injury-marked preseason week two game at the Seahawks, the Cowboys played their final tune up before roster cuts and the regular season against the Raiders on Saturday night. The game was defined more by who doesn’t play then those that do when it comes to who makes this team and starts against the Giants in Week 1. In the span of his second training camp with the team and two preseason games, WR Jalen Tolbert has quickly become a player the Cowboys didn’t need to more of before games start to count.
Offseason hype for Tolbert was tempered by the fact Dallas traded for an established vet in Brandin Cooks, lowering expectations for the second-year receiver after unfairly expecting much more from the third-round pick last season. Still, reports of Tolbert playing faster and with more confidence, and getting his timing down with Dak Prescott, have carried into camp practices and preseason reps. Even Cooks has been impressed with Tolbert’s work ethic to put a forgettable rookie year behind him, with the South Alabama product making four catches for 66 yards including a 35-yarder in Seattle. Tolbert scored a red zone touchdown in the preseason opener against the Jaguars, staking his claim for a WR4 spot that proves how far Dallas has come at the position.
The new Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer offense for the Cowboys has only shown flashes this preseason, with many key starters and most notably Dak Prescott on ice. But even watching the backups and fringe roster players, core concepts like more targets in the middle of the field and West Coast slant/flat combo routes have been on display. This is not only good news for Jalen Tolbert, but also the experienced Michael Gallup, looking to re-establish himself as a playmaker after playing off ACL surgery a year ago.
Gallup is the ideal type of big outside receiver to take full advantage of the scripted crosses, slants, and drags that McCarthy can call his way. Serving as more of an unscripted receiver that made clutch plays when Prescott had to escape the pocket or scramble in Kellen Moore’s offense, more scripted plays for Gallup leaves this all-important depth receiver spot open. Based on the still relatively small sample size in real games from Tolbert, the plays he’s made have all the potential to fill this role.
Tolbert was a number one option for his college team, but also ran a lot of clear out routes to open things up underneath. Playing with a QB in Prescott that isn’t afraid to show off the arm and throw into tight windows deep, he can find himself on the receiving end of big plays vertically should the Cowboys pass protection consistently hold up. Just how many snaps are available for Tolbert on game days when CeeDee Lamb, Gallup, and Cooks all command a large volume of targets remains to be seen, but with the depth at other positions already being tested before the Cowboys even start the season, it’s great to have a player like Tolbert starting in the high-upside WR4 role.
The Cowboys offense hasn’t had any problems starting the season hot in recent years, and now a new play caller and scheme present challenges to adjusting defenses. As defenses prepare for what Dallas is featuring this year, the chances for Tolbert to capitalize on unsuspecting secondaries and show off his speed after the catch increase. The way Tolbert has worked to turn himself into a player that can at very least take the night off from one that would firmly be in this game a year ago is worth celebrating.