Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant’s presence at Pro Bowl practices Wednesday was like a kid on the playground with all of his best friends.
He played catch with New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He laughed and joked with Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
He mostly enjoyed being around his six other Cowboys teammates and their entire coaching staff.
Bryant’s smile was unmistakable.
“It feels awesome to be here, getting to be around some of the elites of the NFL is special,” Bryant said. “I cherish every last one of these moments. We’re just out here wanting to have fun. That’s what it is. Right now, this is fun. We’re going to enjoy it and have a good time and make some people happy.”
Bryant can be happy after finally moving on from the devastating NFC Divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Though he is still disappointed that his dream of reaching the Super Bowl and playing against the Oakland Raiders didn’t come true, he is excited about the Cowboys’ future, led by fellow Pro Bowlers in rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
“You’ve got to look forward to next year,” Bryant said. “We have a great opportunity to do something special. You see what those rookies did. Not only Dak and Zeke, but (cornerback) Anthony Brown and a couple other guys. We’ve got something bright. We’ve got something very special in the future.
“We built something that can last. It can only get better. Because of the fact that we actually give a damn, like I said from the beginning of the season, we actually give a damn and care about one another. With us being that way, we can go as far as we want to go.”
Bryant’s unselfish attitude this season and his somewhat surprising presence in the Pro Bowl is an example of what transpired inside the locker room.
This was not a great season for him statistically. He had 50 catches for 796 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. He missed three games with a hairline fracture in his knee.
He finished third on the team in catches and second in yards.
Yet, he bought into the process and didn’t complain.
Vice-president Stephen Jones said Bryant’s stature as one of the league’s top playmakers remains high, but it was his unselfishness that made him deserving of a third trip to the Pro Bowl.
“Dez is a great football player. He was very unselfish this year,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said from Senior Bowl practices. “He went up in everybody’s eyes in terms of the way he handled, at times, not necessarily getting as many balls as he’s accustomed to. At the same time, I think he played some of his best football down the stretch. I think there are a lot of great days ahead of Dez and obviously, in my opinion, very deserving to be in that game.”
Bryant had nine catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff loss to the Packers.
He showed everyone he is back to his previous dominant ways, something he plans to build on next season.
“It’s not just about me,” Bryant said. “I went through mine. I always tell my brothers and I always tell my family, adversity reveals true character. I feel like I showed that. I showed who I am. I showed what I’m about. I’m going to be there for my team.”
NFL Pro Bowl
7 p.m. Sunday, ESPN