About an hour before the players took the field for last Thursday's OTA practice, head coach Mike McCarthy explained his theory about second-year players to the media.
"I've always felt, with a full offseason program, the second-year player benefits the most," McCarthy said before emphasizing that the players whose rookie offseason was hindered by COVID-19 restrictions will have an even greater opportunity of taking advantage of a full nine weeks of offseason activities. "I've always referred to it as the second-year jump."
Just a little later, CeeDee Lamb made his own version of a "second-year jump" when Dak Prescott saw him running straight down the right sideline in a team rep and decided to test out his young receiver's eagerness to make a play in June. Lamb was covered by Anthony Brown, a veteran cornerback who has defended plenty of Prescott's passes in practice over the past five years. But Lamb jumped in the air, contorted his body so as to block out Brown from making a play on the ball, and caught the pass in bounds for what would have been a huge gain in a real game.
Asked about the play a little later that day, Lamb explained his mindset in those moments and gave a little preview of how he's approaching Year 2.
"As a typical receiver, I feel like if the ball is up in the air 50/50 then the receiver is feeling like it's 100/0," Lamb said of his chances of making the play. "I'm looking to be more aggressive."
"I see CeeDee making that jump," McCarthy said before Lamb made the play. "He's very comfortable, very natural."
McCarthy had implied that a full season of NFL football followed by a more normal offseason, second-year players have a better understanding of the landscape and a more clear vision of what the expectations are. For his part, Lamb said that he has been "perfecting his craft" in ways that will sharpen his playmaking abilities.
"[I've been] doing a lot more studying," Lamb said. "That's helped me a lot. Learning my opponent. Learn the defense. Just the knowledge."
Perhaps the most intriguing notion about McCarthy's expectation for Lamb's sophomore jump is that the young receiver was far ahead of where most rookie receivers are in their rookie seasons. He accepted the responsibility of wearing the No. 88 jersey that had previously been worn by great Cowboy receivers Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, and Dez Bryant, and Lamb's 935 receiving yards was nearly 400 more than what Bryant recorded his rookie season (Bryant played four less games his rookie season).
Lamb is one third of a receiver trio in Dallas that believes that it can and should be the best pass-catching core in the NFL. He agreed that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup were more low-key personalities compared to what fans might presume for such talented receivers, and he said that he similarly doesn't like to do a lot of talking.
But in an offense where the ball will likely be spread around to numerous weapons, it will be big plays, rather than statistics, that a player like Lamb will use to stand out. And while Lamb says he personally doesn't like to do a lot of talking, on his wrist when he made the sideline grab over Anthony Brown was a little homage to a different, much chattier, wide receiver of Cowboys' past. He wore a wristband that read "Get Your Popcorn Ready," the catchphrase of former NFL receiver Terrell Owens.
When asked about the wristband, Lamb slyly just said he gave an example of what it meant in the OTAs that day, referring to the sideline catch. He also told the media that, as a result of his training this offseason, he feels "a lot stronger and faster." Then he said something that doesn't quite seem possible to anyone who watched Lamb at Oklahoma University or in his rookie season with the Cowboys.
"[I feel] a bit more explosive."