May 23, 2012

Dez Bryant hopes to shake injuries and start fulfilling potential

The question remains: How good can the Dallas Cowboys receiver be?

IRVING -- Dez Bryant insists he is working hard to be the best he can be. The question, though, remains: How good can he be?

Bryant arrived in Dallas to great fanfare after the Cowboys traded up three spots to No. 24 overall in 2010 to take the talented receiver from Oklahoma State. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones immediately gave Bryant jersey No. 88, which Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin made famous.

Yet, after two seasons, Bryant and the Cowboys are left wanting.

"I think Dez, like a lot of young players, has to become a more consistent player," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "I think he's shown all of us that he's capable of doing a lot of great things on the field, but you have to do them play in and play out; you've got to do them quarter in and quarter out, game in and game out. That's something that he, like a lot of younger players, has to get better at. It starts with practice. He's working hard in practice -- on how he's running his routes, how disciplined he is and working on that consistency."

Injuries have slowed Bryant's progress.

As a rookie, he tweaked an ankle and had a sore hamstring during off-season workouts. Then, early in the team's 2010 training camp, Bryant suffered a high right ankle sprain that kept him out of the preseason. He showed flashes of brilliance in his first season before breaking his right fibula on a kickoff return in a Dec. 5, 2010, game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Last season, Bryant took a helmet to the thigh in the first half of the first regular season game. Though he sat out only one game, Bryant never was right again, he said.

"I don't think I was ever where I wanted to be," Bryant said. "... I just didn't feel like [it] healed quick enough."

Bryant made 63 receptions for 928 yards and nine touchdowns. But unsung third receiver Laurent Robinson, signed off the street after the season began, was the team's go-to wideout as Miles Austin battled his own injuries.

"It was very frustrating," Bryant said. "But you've just got to get through things, get to the end the best way you can and try your best to get back on the field. Some of the game tape that I watched from last year -- I really wasn't too proud of myself [because the injury hindered him]. I know it's because of the injuries, but I feel like this year, I'm spending more time focusing on my body and making sure everything is right."

Bryant, 23, has had a quiet off-season, which is music to the Cowboys. He has worked hard while keeping out of the headlines.

"A lot of it has to do with off-the-field stuff, and typically that translates into on-the-field stuff," Garrett said. "It's just constant work on our part with all of our young players and really throughout our whole football team to get what we want from them, and Dez is no different."

Bryant is doing everything better than he did last season or his rookie season. He said he understands coverages better. He now uses the right techniques. He is running better routes. He has digested the playbook, and he is working on winning Tony Romo's trust.

"He's a young player," Romo said. "There's a lot that goes into playing wide receiver in the NFL. I think Dez has handled it great. He comes to work every day. You get out there and watch him, and he'll finish those drills. He'll run 30 yards after the catch.

"He's got a great upside. He's continuing to work his butt off, and he's just going to get better and better every year."

So is this Bryant's breakout year? Is this the year he lives up to No. 88 and the team's lofty expectations? Just how good can Bryant be?

"We're going to see," he said.

Charean Williams



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