The Dallas Cowboys began their off-season program Monday with a noticeable void. Wide receiver Dez Bryant is no longer a member of the organization.
Defensive backs Byron Jones and Jeff Heath each spoke of how the Cowboys will miss Bryant’s “passion” and “competitive spirit” in the locker room.
“Him being out here all the time, always fired up about something. We’ll miss that,” Jones said. “You can’t replicate that. I am sure he’s going to do well wherever he goes.”
Added Heath, "That was probably line one with [Bryant], just his love for the game. He really demonstrated that when he was out on the field. In games, when he’d get going, I think the whole team fed off that. We’ll definitely miss that about him, but I’ve been in this league long enough to not really be surprised by any move.”
Jones and Heath spoke to reporters after going through a few lacrosse drills with members of the Dallas Rattlers, the new professional team in town that calls Ford Center home.
But the storyline with the Cowboys remains Bryant’s departure.
Jones described his reaction as “shock” when he heard that the Cowboys were parting ways with their all-time leader in receiving touchdowns last week.
But, as Heath alluded to, it served as a reminder of the business side of the sport.
“That’s a part of life. Nothing lasts forever,” Jones said. “He was an incredibly dominant receiver here and I was lucky to see it and be a part of his dominance while he was here.”
Jones said his level of play went to another level because of Bryant and he will miss their one-on-one battles in practice. But he’ll be champing at the bit if he sees Bryant line up against him in an actual game, something that Bryant has stated he’d like to do.
“Oh, it’d be even better [than in practice],” Jones said, smiling. “I am sure he is going to find a way to play against us at some point. I don’t think he’s going to lose his dominance anytime soon. He’s still got a lot more years left in him.”
Jones and Heath had only good things to say about their former teammate. Heath remembered how Bryant played down the stretch in 2014.
Heath specifically pointed to the 158-yard, two-touchdown performance Bryant had against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, and the three-touchdown game at Philadelphia in December that season.
“The end of that season he was arguably the best receiver in the league at that point,” Heath said. “He’d always make crazy catches in practice, but we kind of got used to that. We’d see it so much.
“As a rookie, I’d be kind of impressed by it and then I was like, ‘Well, that’s Dez just doing what he does.’ I just have a lot of memories of him doing amazing things on the field.”
That’s a thing of the past. Monday marked the beginning of a Cowboys era without Dez Bryant.
The voluntary, nine-week off-season program is conducted in three phases. Phase One, which started Monday, is two weeks of activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only.
“It was good to see all the guys again,” Heath said. “A lot of us have been in here working out for a few weeks, but this is the official start.”
Phase Two is in three weeks includes individual on-field workouts and drills as well as team practice conducted on a “separates” basis. In other words, there’s no live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills permitted.
And Phase Three is scheduled to get under way in May with organized team activities (OTAs). Cowboys dates for those workouts are set May 22-24, May 29-31 and June 4-6. OTAs feature no live contact, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.
A rookie minicamp will be held the first or second weekend after the NFL Draft. The Cowboys’ mandatory minicamp for all players is scheduled for June 12-14 and training camp will get underway in late July in Oxnard, Calif.