ARLINGTON, Texas – In the middle of what is essentially a no-win situation, Taco Charlton is pursuing his best possible option: just play ball.
"I'm willing and ready to play whenever," Charlton said. "Just happy to be out here with my boys, playing the game I love to play."
The Cowboys' third-year veteran had one of the best performances of his career against Houston on Saturday night. Getting the start at right defensive end, he kick started a 34-0 victory when he sacked Deshaun Watson and recovered the ensuing fumble to set up the Cowboys' first touchdown of the day.
"I forced it, so I wanted it," Charlton said of the fumble. "I seen a couple people miss it, so I wasn't going to miss my opportunity."
It wasn't his only fumble recovery. All told, Charlton compiled a heck of a stat line, tallying three tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and the one fumble recovery. He even batted down a pass at the line for good measure.
If he was feeling proud of himself after the game, he wasn't about to show it. After all, Charlton has already noted this preseason that "No matter if I do good, they're going to say it's bad. If I do bad, they're going to say it's terrible."
It's an understandable attitude. Charlton has not lived up to his billing as the No. 28 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. In fact, the realization that a preseason game was one of his best performances to date only underlines that point.
To Charlton's credit, his only response to that scrutiny is to play through it – further into the preseason, if that's what it comes to.
"I've still got a lot of work to do, a lot of stuff to prove," he said. "This ain't nothing to me. Lace 'em up, let's play. If I play the fourth game, I play the fourth game."
The implication is pretty obvious to anyone who has spent time around the NFL. The fourth and final preseason game is typically reserved for rookie and backups. Starters and established role players – who aren't in danger of losing their roster spot – usually watch from the sideline, sporting a baseball cap rather than a helmet.
If Charlton were to play Thursday against Tampa, it may speak volumes about how he is viewed by this coaching staff. But it doesn't hurt to have a vote of confidence from his teammates.
"Taco is a baller," said Jaylon Smith. "People forget we drafted him in the first round for a reason. Jerry and Stephen, these guys – along with the staff – they do a great job of drafting players, because they have a great eye. I believe in Taco so much."
Health could play a factor in what's to come, though. Charlton tweaked his ankle twice toward the end of the first half and was sidelined for the rest of the game. He limped on his way back to the locker room, and he said he'll have an MRI to further evaluate the issue.
Charlton said he doesn't think it's a big deal. And if that's the case, then the plan remains the same.
"Just evaluate everything, make sure everything is cleared and then go back to work," he said.