OXNARD, Calif. — At the ripe old NFL age of 25, Dez Bryant suddenly finds himself the elder statesman of the Dallas Cowboys’ receiving corps.He can handle it. And it probably won’t be in the way that you think.“I’m just going to keep being me, because I feel like I’m doing a good job of it,” Bryant said after Friday’s morning practice. “I just don’t talk. When I do say something, they feel it. I’m just going to continue to keep being me.”Cowboys fans already know the Bryant profile:Passionate. Prideful. Blessed with cradling hands and game-breaking skills. It was in his rookie training camp in 2010 that Dez took issue with receiver Roy Williams for demanding that he tote the veteran’s shoulder pads. Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Miles Austin — they’re all gone. But you won’t be seeing Bryant ordering any of this team’s young receivers around.“There’s none of that here,” he said. “I’m not big on hazing. We don’t do that. We’re here to play football. We’re going to hopefully make this team the best Cowboys team ever. That’s what we’re going to do.”Eventually, you see, they all grow up. The Cleveland Browns may want to make note of this. Eventually, if they can survive the NFL’s fiery version of puberty, even the most precocious of rookies seem to smooth their rough edges and accept maturation. It was Bryant’s misfortune to have to spend his awkward NFL years in the spotlight — his fall in the 2010 draft allegedly due to his difficult upbringing, the shoulder pads incident, the jewelry thing, the yelling on the sideline, bailing early from the Green Bay game. All behind him?Maybe not. But he’s no team-wrecker — no Terrell Owens.“There’s never been a question about his passion or love for the game, or the kind of kid he is,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I can’t begin to tell you in so many different ways how he’s gotten better. He’s gotten much more mature as a person. He handles the game in a much more professional manner than he did when he got here. It shows up in his play.“He’s just an unbelievable teammate. You love to have him on your team.”The changes aren’t all talk, either. Garrett continued, “He’s grown a lot. It’s shown up in his play. He’s a more mature route runner. He has a better understanding what he wants to do. How he wants to attack defenders. How he sees coverages. He’s just continuing to grow. “He loves the game. He’s got great energy. He’s got so much juice, it’s infectious.”Juice. There’s the perfect word.On a team that often has been accused of being far too dry around the edges, Dez Bryant brings the juice.If the Cowboys get over the 8-8 hump and return to the playoffs this season, their most valuable player won’t necessarily be Tony Romo — it could well be Dez.“Us, the receivers, our standards are high,” Bryant said. “We want to be great, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to lead this team.”With veteran Austin gone, Dez took it upon himself during the off-season to form a closer bond with Terrance Williams and the other pass catchers.“I reached out,” he said. “We went on dinners, had a good time, watched games and stuff.“I think you need that to become a good team.”He’s not the angry rookie anymore. He’s grown, Bryant admitted.“Physically, I’m the same guy as when I started,” he said Friday. “I still feel extremely young. But as far as knowing the playbook, I feel real good. That’s what’s exciting about this being my fifth year.“I can’t wait. I’m ready to put all that stuff together and help my teammates, and see where it goes from there.”A little juice, maybe, might be all the Cowboys need.
Gil LeBreton 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton