IRVING -- It no longer matters if the entire Cowboys staff, save for one, wanted no part of Dez Bryant.
Just assume this guy will forever be a drama king off the field, and that he has the makings of another former Cowboys receiver.
Michael Irvin, you say? You wish.
Try Terrell Owens.
This isn't a bad thing.
Who cares if Dez Bryant can't learn plays, or forgets them out of the huddle? T.O. never did learn the plays, and he had a Hall of Fame career.
The Cowboys are married to Dez, so the only thing that matters is to get this guy on the field at all costs. They need this guy to have a realistic hope of the playoffs.
The hardest thing the Cowboys' staff may do all season is keep Dez clean and healthy. Dez is too valuable to his team, and himself, not to figure this out now. It's time for Dez to get football smart, starting with mastering NFL Health 101.
I do not expect him to cure cancer or invent a brighter light bulb, but I'm hopeful he can learn how to stay on a football field. It would be nice if he mastered the playbook, etc. but at this point that is a luxury. There are cases of successful NFL receivers who never had those "finer points" down but thrived because they were athletically superior to their opponent. It's not fair, but it's true.
Just as he did at Lufkin, Dez Bryant can make grown men look like little boys. From what we've seen so far on the field, Dez is the best athlete on this team, and its most dynamic offensive player. He is one the one guy Tony Romo can throw a pop-up to and say, "Go get it" and feel comfortable the right guy will catch it.
But Dez isn't quite as effective on the sidelines, which is where he may be Sunday.
Dez is only 22, not two full years into his NFL career, and there is already "injury prone" talk. Jerry Jones said Dez is "not a done deal" for Sunday's game in San Francisco because of a deep thigh bruise. Jason Garrett said Dez is day-to-day.
This is what will happen -- game-time decision, Dez will try to go, and he's going to be day-to-day all season.
No one can say this guy doesn't care, or doesn't want it. His play screams of desperation and a ferocity that not many players exhibit. It is great theater to watch him run, catch, fight, jaw, run around and run over defenders. Everything looks like a fight when Dez plays.
But how do you tell a player that dialing it down may actually be in his best interest when the reason you love him is that his dial is broken?
"That's a tricky question and I understand why you're asking it. It's hard as a coach to tell someone to play with less passion and less enthusiasm," Jason Garrett said Friday. "With Dez, it's hard for us as coaches to go up to him and say, 'Hey, don't play the way you play.' The reason we like him is how he plays. I think he can be smarter in some specific situations, though."
Unlike Randy Moss, or T.O., Dez never seems to take a play off. Not to advocate quitting, but there is a time and a place.
"What do you mean? I don't want him to go down," Cowboys receiver Miles Austin said. "That's the thing I like about him: He doesn't go down."
The Cowboys haven't quite adopted Lufkin High School coach John Outlaw's approach in dealing with Dez. But they are getting close.
"I was never going to have the quarterback or my No. 1 receiver do something like return kicks," Outlaw told me on Thursday when asked about his former receiver, Dez Bryant. "I was never going to use a guy like that on a kick or punt return. He never got hurt for me, but I never put him in that situation. I understand they pay him a ton of money now and they can use him however they want. That's a whole different deal there, and everybody fries their fish a different way."
It sounds like, according to the owner, the Cowboys are done with Dez as a kick returner. According to the GM, they are going to be more judicious regarding Dez as a punt returner.
That is fine, but they can't shroud Dez in packing peanuts.
Even though he hasn't played 16 NFL games, Dez already demands two defensive backs on some plays. On Romo's killer fourth-quarter interception in Game 1, the Jets were sending a safety over the top so Darrelle Revis could have help with Dez.
Let that sink in: The Jets were sending a safety over the top so Darrelle Revis could have help.
Bryant is several years and two teams removed from his Lufkin days, but not much has changed in that he still ranks only slightly behind the quarterback of his team in terms of value.
So it really doesn't matter if the entire Cowboys staff, save for one, wanted no part of Dez Bryant.
He is theirs.
He is awesome.
And they badly need for him to figure out NFL Health 101.
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Mac Engel (817) 390-7760