OXNARD, Calif. – It's mid-summer, and that means it's leap season.
No, not in the traditional sense. This has nothing to do with an extra day at the end of February. But with NFL teams reporting to training camp, and with the Cowboys winding their way into the second week of their own camp, everyone is looking for that player that's ready to make "the leap."
It's usually fans and media doing the searching, looking for that guy who might jump his game to another level. In the case of Neville Gallimore, it's possible his head coach sees it, too.
"Neville has taken a huge jump this offseason," said Mike McCarthy over the weekend.
Few of the Cowboys' young players generate as much interest as Gallimore, the 2020 third-round pick who grew into a larger role down the home stretch of last season. Gallimore began his career as an almost-afterthought, registering just three tackles in his first six games and being made inactive for two of them.
By the end of the season, he was a regular contributor, averaging 55% of the snaps and tallying 21 of his 28 tackles in the second half of the season.
Talking to him, it doesn't sound like that progress is lost on Gallimore. On the contrary, he sounds like someone determined to improve upon it.
"In the back of my mind I know how special I can be," he said Wednesday. "I look at guys who play my position who have played 5-6 years, 9-10 years, Pro Bowls and that motivates me."
Similar to their woes at the safety position, the Cowboys have been looking for that type of production at defensive tackle for quite some time. It's been eight years since Jason Hatcher was named to the Pro Bowl for his 11-sack season in 2013. Jay Ratliff's and La'Roi Glover's contributions are an even more distant memory.
It's obviously too soon to know if Gallimore can reach that bar. The Cowboys are only now putting on their pads for the first time in 2021. But from listening to him, it certainly seems that the drive is there.
"I want to be that guy allowing myself to play faster," he said. "I've still got a long way to go, but it's the little things I see, the light at the end of the tunnel where it's like once everything clicks, I'll get to a point where the only person who can stop me is me."
Talk like that makes it easy to understand the optimism, as plenty of people within the organization echo McCarthy's sentiments. From the sounds of it, a guy who was already billed as a strong player has only gotten stronger, as Gallimore dedicated a healthy chunk of his offseason toward improving his build.
"His biggest strides have been in the weight room, his strength and conditioning. He's in tremendous shape," McCarthy said. "He's had a tremendous, tremendous offseason."
Talk is cheap, at the end of the day. The Cowboys struggled terribly on defense last season, lowlighted by a run defense that allowed 159 yards per game – second-to-last in the entire NFL. For all the promise Gallimore might show, he's one of many Cowboys defensive tackles with a lot to prove, especially if the unit is going to fix that.
"We take full ownership, and it's on us at the end of the day," Gallimore said. "Guys in the middle, we're the ones that hold it down, and we make everybody better. We make it easy for the linebackers to fly around. We give our DBs and stuff time to cover the ball. It starts with us."
It doesn't mean much in late July, with the pads just starting to come on. But the potential is there, and Gallimore recognizes it – and the latter part makes it all the more exciting.