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Spagnola: Something special in the offensive air


SEATTLE – Sure, the Cowboys lost Preseason Game No. 2 to the Seattle Seahawks, 22-14, Saturday might.

Big deal. It's preseason, and once again the Cowboys sat 26 players, 21 of those considered starters.

No biggie.

Now, looks like the Cowboys suffered their first rash of injuries, and sounds as if there will be little good news arriving after further tests were to be performed on DeMarvion Overshown, John Stephens and Matt Waletzko on Sunday, the Cowboys fearing torn ACLs for Overshown and Stephens, while Waletzko suffered a right shoulder subluxation.

As head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game, "You just say your prayers and hopefully the imaging points in the right direction."

Just a shame, especially since all three of those youngsters were showing great promise.

And like in the first game when two fumbles cost the Cowboys 15 points – eight that Jacksonville scored and seven the Cowboys didn't, ending up losing by five – this time two 15-yard goofy personal fouls aided and abetted the Seahawks scoring 10 points, the Cowboys ending up losing by eight.

Oh, well.

But there is something brewing on this offense and has little to do with totaling just 293 yards and but 14 points in this game here at Lumen Field before 68,458.

Let's start small and then go big.

Deuce did it again. Scored on a 14-yard run, his second touchdown of the preseason while only getting five carries behind a conglomerate of backup and soon to be practice squad offensive linemen.

And it's not the fact the 5-5, 180-pound running back scored a touchdown. Heck, even at his size he scored 43 during his four seasons at Kansas State. But it's how he scored, hitting a hole with one man to beat, stuck his foot in the ground, cut to his right and caused Seattle safety Jerrick Reed II to olé on his attempted tackle and powered the rest of the way into the end zone.

The slew of Cowboys fans in attendance showered him with a chorus of "Deuuuuce" once again. It's beginning to be a thing.

"That's who he is," quarterback Dak Prescott says, having to watch from the sideline once again, though itching to go into the game, especially there late in the fourth quarter with two minutes to go, the Cowboys having the ball down by eight.

"He's far from a flash player. Flash players don't make it."

And by now, this isn't breaking news. Health willing, Deuce Vaughn is going to make it with the big boys, meaning this 53-man roster, and at this rate the novelty of his size is going to fade to black.

Now big.

This Cowboys wide receiver corps is real, and real good. And to think the Big 3, CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup haven't stepped foot on a preseason field yet this summer. Chances are they still won't next Saturday in the final of three preseason games, this one against the Raiders at AT&T Stadium.

But we don't need no analytics or Madden ratings to tell us this trio will be something special in 2023. We have eyes. And the training camp eyes scream at us this realness is so.

That's your top three receivers, yet the corps seems to be growing even more teeth, the Cowboys seemingly prepared to go five deep, and who knows how this 53-man roster will shake out, but given space seems at this point they could qualify keeping six.

So then, we know the three. But now growing before our very eyes are Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin and Simi Fehoko, two guys in their second NFL seasons and one in his third.

Dak, what you think? Is there a serious case of embellishment breaking out or what?

"Top to bottom, the best group I've been involved with here," Dak says, and by no means is he throwing shade at those who have come before them. You know, like Amari Cooper, Cole Beasley, Dez Bryant, Terence Williams, Randall Cobb, T.Y. Hilton and them.

"They're deep. They're deep."

Rolling in the deep mind you.

Last year's rookie receiver Tolbert is no longer a rookie. He is making that second-year leap, and by bounds too. Did it again in this game Saturday night. He caught four passes for 66 yards. Looks like a completely different receiver from his rookie season. Running crisp routes. Executing with confidence. Looking like he belongs.

"Everything has changed from the head up," says Dak, knowing this obvious change has been on display during the training camp practices in Oxnard, Calif., and if you need convincing come see for yourself this week when the Cowboys will practice in front of as many as wish to come Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Ford Center. And doesn't cost a red cent to eyeball this one for yourself.

Tolbert is feeling it.

"Yeah, I mean, just the confidence No. 1," McCarthy says of Tolbert's growth. "It just jumps off the field. I think that's really attributed to his hard work. He's had a heck of an offseason. He's cashing in on opportunities. He's going up and making plays. I like the instinct of plays, the scramble plays, the extended plays. So I just think it shows you how much he's grown."

Measured in yards, not inches.

Then there is the Pro Bowl returner Turpin. The Cowboys continue implementing him into the offense, not just settling for igniting his speed on kickoff and punts returns, nor just end arounds. McCarthy realizes they need to get the ball into this guy's hands.

They did so against the Seahawks, Turpin catching two passes for 17 yards.

"The guy can play receiver too," backup quarterback Cooper Rush says. "I know he is a punt returner. He's a heck of a receiver too, and it's fun being out there with him."

You bet. So right there that's five receivers, and we haven't even gotten to rookie Jalen Brooks, the team's seventh-round pick, and third year guy Simi Fehoko. That would be seven, maybe the genesis of Dak going "deep."

Now Dak would never say a discouraging word, but that shouldn't stop me, right? And to prove a point, have asked this question repeatedly over the past couple of weeks with blank eyes for answers.

Do you remember who the season-opening wide receivers were last year, and spotting you Lamb?

Well, the other two were Noah Brown and undrafted rookie Dennis Houston. Sense a world of difference? And even when Gallup returned five weeks into the season, he was not the Gallup he'd been in 2020 when he caught 59 passes for 843 yards and five touchdowns as the third receiver before tearing his ACL nine games into the 2021 season. Now he is, as Dak recently has confirmed, "Michael Gallup is Michael Gallup again."

You watch, these guys will make life much easier for Dak this season. The threat of this trio, and the addition of all them other guys, will make life easier for Tony Pollard running the ball, and his gaggle of running back mates too. Defenses certainly will come to realize there's no getting with a whole lot of man coverage.

Best of all their confidence is growing as a unit, and players know what's best, who's best.

What a difference a year makes.

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