FRISCO, Texas — Amari Cooper was traded to the Cleveland Browns. Michael Gallup is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and won’t be back until mid-September.
What seemed destined to happen after the Dallas Cowboys selected CeeDee Lamb in the first round in 2020 and gave him the hallowed No. 88 jersey is now a reality: Lamb is the Cowboys’ best wide receiver.
“I feel like it’s part of me, being that guy and kind of being in charge of everything,” Lamb said after the first organized team activity last week. “If I don’t go, nothing will go, honestly. That’s how I approach the game. Just having that pressure, if you will, on my back is nonsense.
Lamb may not feel the pressure in May, but in September, when the games get real, things will be different.
“I think CeeDee is in a situation where all of a sudden he’s going to have a lot more attention on him and how he handles that will tell the story,” Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown said. , at ESPN. “There is going to be a guy above you and creeping security and that means you have to go to work. You have to learn how to do that, learn how to beat double coverage and sometimes triple coverage. I think it’s going to be a big adjustment for him.
It’s not that Lamb didn’t get special attention in his first two years, but he was always comforted by the fact that he was playing with other receivers most of the time. Cooper (68 catches for 865 yards in 2021), Cedrick Wilson (45 catches, 602 yards) and Gallup (35 catches, 445 yards), who themselves would attract attention.
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At the start of this season, the Cowboys could have James Washington, who had 24 receptions a year ago for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and third-round pick Jalen Tolbert as No. 2 and 3 receivers while Gallup recovers. Wilson signed with the Miami Dolphins in March.
Last season, Lamb led the Cowboys with 79 receptions for 1,102 yards and eight touchdowns and was added to the Pro Bowl. In his first two seasons, he rushed for 2,037 yards, surpassed in team history only by Hall of Famer Bob Hayes (2,235 yards in 1965-66).
Lamb’s rise to No. 1 is reminiscent of that of Dez Bryant, who wore No. 88 before Lamb. The Cowboys never thought Bryant would be available where they picked in the 2010 draft, but went from No. 27 to No. 24 to get him; just as they never thought Lamb would be available to them in 2020. As a rookie, Bryant had Miles Austin as the No. 1 receiver and progressed through the rotation to become the true No. 1 in his third season. .
From 2012 to 2014, Bryant averaged 91 catches for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns with Tony Romo at quarterback.
“It’s a great opportunity for him personally,” coach Mike McCarthy said of Lamb. “I think the way we’ve established the attack, especially in the passing game, the ability for these guys to play in different positions, create clashes and make it harder for the defense to overtake you and that stuff – my point is to play a lot in the slot last year and now play the flanker position (Cooper’s position).
“We understand his rise in Year 3 that he’s going to get a lot more attention from the defense. But he’s doing all the little things that are necessary to prepare him to be the No. 1 guy. “
There’s also a tangible change, and that’s where Lamb’s locker is. Quarterback Dak Prescott moved Lamb right next to him, a spot Cooper had previously held.
“My other two locker mates left so I was kind of on my own and decided, you know, it’s him,” Prescott said. “So just me knowing that hopefully he’s my receiver until I’m done playing, just bring him closer, no more conversation since he’s right there, accessible to talk, communicate merely.”
It took time for Brown to become the Raiders’ No. elite kicker and third receiver. In 1993, Mervyn Fernandez got injured, and it started Brown’s nine-straight 1,000-yard streak.
Brown’s job was a little tougher as he said he had 20 different quarterbacks with the Raiders, although the Cowboys had four different starting quarterbacks in Lamb’s rookie season.
“I talked to these guys a lot, especially the youngsters, trying to let them know they trusted me and once they’ve finished it they’re good and they can always come back to it,” said Brown said. “But you have to be on the same page as your quarterback because it could be a really easy pick if you’re not.”
There has been a natural bond between Prescott and Lamb almost from the start. His two 100-yard games as a rookie came with Prescott at quarterback for seven of eight quarters in those games. They had two more 100-yard games last year, including Lamb’s effort of nine catches, 149 yards and two touchdowns, including the overtime winner, against the New England Patriots.
Not only are their lockers side by side, but they sit in the same row in offensive meetings.
They know that details matter.
“We’re continuing to work on it and it’s a process,” Prescott said. year.”
Due to his success in Oklahoma, his draft status and his number 88, Lamb has never gone unnoticed, but in 2022 he knows the Cowboys will need more.
“Most importantly, just step up no matter the situation, first down, second down, always being that guy everyone can rely on,” Lamb said. “And by everyone, I mean everyone in that locker room. I want to be responsible. I want to be that guy.