OXNARD, California. The importance of C.D. Lamb to the Dallas Cowboys in 2022 has never been more apparent than after the third practice of training camp. It wasn’t what he did on the field. This is what he didn’t do.

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Lamb didn’t take any pictures in team practice. He’s only 24. He’s only in his third season. He has no history of injury.

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“I was confused,” Lamb said. “They told me that I was done with the practice. I mean, I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I’m not used to it.”

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Personal history tells coach Mike McCarthy that players are more likely to get soft tissue injuries in their third or fourth camp practice.

“It was just counting reps while I was awake,” McCarthy said. “Physically, there was nothing there. Trusting the numbers, GPS from the past. It was intended.”

The Cowboys decided to leave Amari Cooper in March with the Cleveland Browns, in part because of his $20 million salary and in part because they believe Lamb is poised to become a No. 1 wide receiver while fulfilling the No. 1 legacy. The .88 jersey was given to him after being drafted in the first round in 2020.

On Monday, Lamb’s importance to the Cowboys’ offense was further heightened when James Washington suffered a broken right leg that will keep him out of action for six to ten weeks, according to multiple sources. In addition, Cowboys No. 2 wide receiver Michael Gallup continues to recover from a left ACL tear in January and will miss at least the season opener.

The only other healthy receiver to catch a pass from quarterback Dak Prescott in a regular season game is Noah Brown.

The transition to the No. 1 role doesn’t bother Lamb, who has 153 receptions for 2,037 yards and 11 touchdowns and a Pro Bowl in his first two seasons.

But it is this job that Lamb, Prescott, the coaches and the front office believe will propel him into the top ranks of wide receivers in the NFL.

After a day in the red zone, Lamb spent extra time with Prescott working on the timing of routes near the end zone, perfecting steps and ball placement that they hope will become second nature when the season kicks off in September.

“We’ve been doing it all this offseason just by being together,” Lamb said. “Everything is completely different when there is a body in front of you, and not in the air. So you just need to take into account a couple of little nuances here and there, and then just implement them in the game.

For a few days in early July, Prescott had Lamb, Jalen Tolbert and tight ends Dalton Schultz and Sean McKeon in Miami to practice at the University of Miami. This is a trip that Prescott has made in the past with his Seekers, but this is Lamb’s first time.

COVID-19 prevented Lamb’s rookie year trip, although they did meet at Prescott’s house to work in the quarterback’s backyard. In 2021, Prescott was still recovering from a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle.

Lamb called his time in Miami “phenomenal”.

“Just having that kind of experience with your quarterback just builds character and builds up better days after training camp,” Lamb said.

Lamb had his usual eye-catching plays, such as one-handed passes from the sideline. On Monday, he and Prescott hooked up to the wide receiver on five of their six pass attempts. Three were in traffic with defenders on all sides of Lamb. All three went for what would have been a first down.

Prescott said that Lamb had success “everywhere”.

“He’s just a guy who loves to work — whether it’s in the movie theater, whether it’s here on the field, in training, just in training or alone,” Prescott said. “He will continue to get better and his mentality is one that all wide receivers can follow.”

McCarthy was already part of this broad receivers advance. In his nearly ten-plus years with the Green Bay Packers, he saw Donald Driver pass the No. 1 wide receiver to Greg Jennings, who passed it to Geordie Nelson, who passed it to Geordie Nelson. Davante Adamslike Lamb did with the Cowboys.

“The light is brighter not only internally, in terms of responsibility and opportunity, but also in how the defense will respond to it,” McCarthy said. “When you look at CeeDee and these receivers in Green Bay, you are very similar to how we do it here in Dallas. The opportunity for recipients to play inside and out is very important to me. When you only play one or the other, it’s a lot easier for the defense to pick him up.

“CeeDee’s experience playing so much in the slot last year will only help him now that he’s on the wing. … We have to move him to create more opportunities for him.”

Unlike the Packers wide receivers, Lamb won’t have proven players to distract attention. At least until Gallup returns or if the Cowboys add a high-profile recipient through free agency or an exchange. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he saw no need to add an experienced wide receiver due to Washington’s injury. Washington’s loss is significant because of the way the Cowboys set up receptions, but he only had 24 catches for the Pittsburgh Steelers last year and never had more than 44 field goals in a season.

“I feel like I’m still going to impact the game,” Lamb said of where he is on the pitch. “And with that being said, I’m #1, the spotlight will be on me and I’m kind of ready for it. It doesn’t change anything for my game. I’m just going to play.”

Since he was with Lamb in Oklahoma, quarterback Neville Gallimore knows him better than most on the Cowboys’ roster. They had lockers next to each other and often talked about their NFL dreams.

“I know that if you put him in a situation, if you throw him in a fire, he will always come out victorious,” Gallimore said. “So I know he’s more than ready for this opportunity and I won’t say too much about it, but I’m excited. Not because he’s my teammate, but he’s a good guy. But man, this guy is going to go and get it. It has a lot to offer and hasn’t even scratched the surface so far. You best believe that you can expect something special from him this season. Without a doubt.”

Prescott has no doubts. When Lamb first addressed reporters at camp, the quarterback approached the fight with the message:

“CD is that dude.”

If not Lamb, then who?