Dez Bryant has made it clear he wants a new contract that rewards him for becoming one of the top receivers in the game. The Cowboys have had preliminary discussions with Bryant’s agent, Eugene Parker, but the fifth-year veteran isn’t going to let the business side of football interfere with his play.
“I love this game, and I always have,” Bryant said Monday. “As long as I keep doing what I’m doing, that stuff will handle itself.”
Bryant’s attitude has impressed Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who made an example of Bryant last week. While special teams was having its eight-minute period during the Cowboys’ organized team activities, Bryant caught footballs on the JUGS machine. He did the same thing Monday.
“He’s over there by himself with a couple of managers, hammering footballs at him, catching balls,” Garrett said. “I told our film guy, film that, and I showed our team that in the team meeting, because Dez Bryant arguably has the best hands I’ve ever seen. Players on our team feel the same way.
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“He’s just such a natural, a natural catching the football. I tried to make the point to our team that you’re really not a natural catching the football, Dez just catches more balls than anybody else. He’s worn my arm out; he’s worn the managers’ arms out; the quarterbacks’ arms out.”
Garrett went so far as to compare Bryant to Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. Bryant, 25, has 293 catches for 4,104 yards and 40 touchdowns in his career. Irvin had 171 receptions for 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first four seasons.
“He loves the game,” Garrett said of Bryant. “He has a great passion for the game. Contract aside, he’s not worried about that. He’s trying to get himself to be the best player he can be to help our team be the best it can be. He does it every day. He’s really demonstrated some leadership qualities.
“I have a great fondness for Michael Irvin. I had the good fortune of playing with Michael for eight years. Michael Irvin set the pace and the tempo for our team all throughout the 90s. He worked harder than anybody else. And Dez Bryant has a lot of those same traits.
“If you get a chance, watch Dez in one-on-ones, watch him in routes on air, watch him warm up. He just does it the right way. He wants to play the game at a very high level. Any contract concerns don’t show up on the practice field. He’s trying to be the best player he can be.”
Bryant will make $1.78 million in 2014, the final year of his rookie deal.
Mackenzy Bernadeau didn’t need to be told anything by anyone after the Cowboys drafted offensive lineman Zack Martin in the first round. Bernadeau, the team’s starting right guard last season, knew what it meant for him.
“I know the business,” Bernadeau said. “I know he’s going to come in and play somewhere. … I was prepped to know if he’s ready to come in take the right side, I’ll be competing or trying to play the left side or just be ready to prepare to if I need to play all three interior positions. I knew, and I didn’t have to have a conversation with anybody.”
The Cowboys signed Bernadeau to a four-year, $11 million contract before the 2012 season, and he started 25 games at right guard and two at center in two seasons. He was replaced by Brian Waters last season before Waters was lost for the season.
Now, Martin has moved in front of him, with Bernadeau shifting to left guard to compete with Ron Leary for the starting job. The two are splitting first-team snaps.
Bernadeau also has been in the rotation at center, taking snaps there behind last year’s first-round pick, Travis Frederick. He said he will prepare for all three interior line positions.
• Jason Witten missed the start of Monday’s practice to be with his son, who had minor surgery. The Pro Bowl tight end arrived in time for all of the team work. His backup, Gavin Escobar, sat out practice with a sore back.
• Safety Matt Johnson, who didn’t play a down his first two seasons and barely practiced because of hamstring injuries, sat out Monday’s practice with a sore hamstring.
• The Cowboys are working with the Oakland Raiders to set up joint training camp practices. The joint workouts will take place at the Cowboys’ training facility in Oxnard, Calif.