OXNARD, Calif. — There are a lot of eyes on Jalen Tolbert heading into 2023 training camp and, thus far, those eyes are smiling as if they have teeth. The former third-round pick saw his rookie season derailed by internal battles with self-confidence, but in speaking with and analyzing his demeanor and impact on the practice field, it feels like 2022 was a lifetime ago.
"I see a guy who's figured it out," said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer at the end of camp's first week. "He figured, hey, last year didn't get off to a great start. I know I talked about him in the spring. He was one of the first guys in the building."
Tolbert has a swagger in Year 2 that wasn't present in Year 1, and it's showing.
His OTAs, minicamp and now first couple of practices in training camp have all been eye-opening and reminiscent of the version of Tolbert that once torched fields for the University of South Alabama.
But then there's the work he's putting in behind the scenes as well that's next-level — as told by Schottenheimer, who joined the organization as a coaching analyst last year and, as such, can justifiably assess the growth of Tolbert to now.
One major influence on the progress of Tolbert has been Brandin Cooks, the veteran receiver immediately taking to mentoring Tolbert and other young wideouts on the roster; but Schottenheimer wants to take nothing away from the Mobile native.
"Brandin has been a big part of that, yes, but I'd be remiss if I didn't sell Jalen on the way he's worked — coming up and sitting in offices, just checking in and being around," said Schottenhemier.
And then there's The Notebook, one that sounds good enough to make Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams envious.
"I was talking to J.T. about something that came up yesterday and, I don't know if he'll share it with you guys, but ask him to see his notebook one day," Schottenheimer revealed. "It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen: the way he prepares his mind. For a young player, a second-year player, I was blown away. I told him to save that and I used that in the front of the [offensive meetings] because it's dynamic.
"… That's what this game requires. It's not just talent. The mental side — these players don't get enough credit for how hard it is to do what they do in playing full speed, and reacting to moving parts, but he's figuring it out. He's also working his ass off."
In the battle for WR4, Tolbert is passing the initial eye test with flying colors.