MOBILE, Ala. – A full year ago, Jalen Tolbert stood on the very same football field, knowing it was time to prove himself.
Back then, Tolbert was an accomplished wide receiver at South Alabama, participating in the Senior Bowl as the hometown kid looking to prove he had it what it takes to get drafted.
Fast forward to this year, and Tolbert returned to Hancock Whitney Stadium, where he's now the Cowboys wide receiver coming back to see old teammates and coaches and give support to the next wave of Senior Bowl talent.
But don't think for a second he doesn't have anything to prove. In fact, in his eyes, Tolbert knows there are plenty of doubters about his ability to live up to the expectations that come with being a third-round pick.
Plain and simple, Tolbert expected much more than just his two catches for 12 yards and playing in only eight games.
"I think everything is a learning experience," Tolbert said this week after one of the Senior Bowl practices. "People look at this year as a down year for me or whatever the word might be out there, but for me, I learned a lot and learned what I need to do to be an elite talent in the league and how to help our team next year. I'm excited for the offseason as well as the coaches are for me, to take that next step and have a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2. I'm excited to go in and have a different feel and know exactly what I need to do and what's asked of me and just be comfortable and play like I played here at South (Alabama) and have that confidence."
Tolbert was one of the most productive receivers ever to come out of the South Alabama program, catching 82 passes in 2021 as a junior before declaring for the NFL Draft.
He also had a big week at the Senior Bowl, which is played at his own stadium, which obviously helped him getting picked.
But getting drafted is one thing – performing up to the standards – is another.
"With every step you take, you go into a different view of life and a different view of football," Tolbert said. "I had to learn the business side of stuff, the position side of things – I had to learn multiple positions. I had to learn a lot of stuff. Now I know what to work on, what I need to do and where I need to be, what positions I need to know, now I can go into next year and not have to learn and play at the same time but just go out there, be comfortable and confident and just go play and show why I got drafted."
Before he can do that next season, Tolbert knows this will be an important offseason. He said he expects to train with CeeDee Lamb for most of the time, as well as spending time running routes and catching passes from Dak Prescott.
Tolbert also said one of the things that slowed his development last year, might turn into a blessing this season. He was moved into different positions at receiver, playing inside and outside, which he admitted wasn't easy to learn all at once. But now, the knowledge of the positions – even with a new play-caller running the offense, should be a benefit.
"The coaches are excited about me being able to retain the information and play three to four positions," he said. "Being able to play inside and out is going to help me in the long run. Like I said, this rookie year is by far the worst that I've had and far from what I wanted for myself. But I know that I needed it, God knows I needed it and the coaches know that I needed it. It's a get time for me to be able to adjust and get a grip for all positions and in the future, I can play inside and out and play wherever they ask me to play. I'm excited to continue to grow there and continue to work."