The Dallas Cowboys are set to play quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to kick off their regular season this Sunday, September 11, at AT&T Stadium. But is this version of America’s Team as talented as the one that posted a 12-5 record last season, winning the NFC East title and securing a playoff berth?
After losing players to other teams plus having others suffer various injuries this offseason, the Cowboys will be forced to rely on a few unproven players and veterans to fill big roles in their debut against the Bucs. Here are five players we believe must step up in this game in order for Dallas to come out victors in Week One.
#1. Jalen Tolbert, Wide Receiver
While number one wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz figure to be quarterback Dak Prescott’s top two receiving targets in this matchup, the Buccaneers’ defense will do their best to remove those options when possible. And without Gallup on the field, Prescott will be forced to look elsewhere. This is where the team’s rookie third rounder has to step up.
Based on his use in the preseason, the Cowboys seem dead set on making Jalen Tolbert a big part of their passing offense with Gallup still sidelined. And after an up-and-down performance this summer, it’s anyone’s guess how the 23-year-old rookie out of South Alabama will handle the bright lights of Sunday Night Football in his professional debut.
If Tolbert is able to avoid the jitters and plays big when the team needs him, the Cowboys have a much better chance of winning this matchup. Especially if Tampa Bay figures out a way to limit the effectiveness of both Jarwin and Lamb. Prescott loves to spread the ball around, so Tolbert figures to get plenty of looks regardless. Tolbert must win his one-on-one matchups and play up to the moment instead of the moment being too big for him.
Update: Bryan Broaddus, formerly of DallasCowboys.com and now with 105.3 The Fan recently tweeted that he’s heard there might be a chance Jalen Tolbert will not be active on Sunday with other receivers like Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, and rookie Dennis Houston getting the nod over him. If this is true, it’s disappointing and the above “step up” label would apply to whomever the number two receiver role falls to.