IRVING, Texas -- Roy Williams isn’t the only Cowboys’ receiver who had a strong relationship with Jon Kitna before the backup quarterback was pushed into starting duty.
It’s just that Dez Bryant’s rapport with Kitna wasn’t common knowledge.
Williams had his two best seasons catching passes from Kitna in Detroit, but it’s Bryant who has flourished since the backup took the reins of the Cowboys’ offense when Tony Romo broke his collarbone a few weeks ago. Bryant leads the Cowboys with 23 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns in 15 quarters with Kitna at quarterback.
The biggest reason for Bryant’s emergence is that he’s an unbelievable talent. But the rapport the backup quarterback built with Bryant has helped expedite the rookie receiver’s development.
“He's somebody that when Tony was playing, I was trying to talk to Dez for Tony, to get him to see things the same way that Tony sees them or the way the quarterback is seeing them,” Kitna said. “Now that I'm playing, I've kind of folded it into a relationship where we have pretty good communication.”
It’s not the first time Kitna has struck up this kind of relationship with a ridiculously talented young receiver. He helped teach Chad Ochocinco the NFL ropes back when the Bengals’ brash receiver was still Chad Johnson. Kitna was the backup for the first four games of Ochocinco’s second season. Once Kitna became the starter, Ochocinco suddenly morphed from a No. 3 receiver into the go-to guy.
Kitna considers part of the backup quarterback’s job to be teaching young receivers how to make a quarterback’s job easier. He’s kind of like a marriage counselor.
“It's like your wife telling you what really makes her happy, what works for her,” Kitna said. “I mean, you can buy roses for your wife all you want, but if that's not what gets her going, then it's really futile. Although it's a good attempt, it's futile. So when she tells you, `I really like it when you just offer to massage my feet or you do the dishes.' That's finding out what your wife likes.
“It's kind of the same thing for a receiver with a quarterback, just kind of finding out what he likes.”
Kitna’s role was especially important given Bryant’s circumstances. Bryant had to rely on mental reps due to missing most of training camp and all of the preseason with a high ankle sprain. Kitna took it upon himself to minimize how much the missed time delayed Bryant’s development.
“He’s taken me under his wing,” Bryant said.
It’s a simple relationship, really. Kitna provides the kid with as much knowledge as possible. Bryant listens, rarely asking questions, just soaking up the 14-year veteran’s wisdom. Bryant’s passion and enthusiasm makes it fun for Kitna to work with him.
They’ve built trust in the process.
"He just takes it in,” Kitna said. “He wants the game to be simple. It's a simple game to him -- just throw me the ball. But if we can all be a little closer to the same page in how we're thinking about things and running things, then he gets to have the ball thrown to him more. That's really what he wants, so when you talk about the little things, he's very receptive to those things.”
With Kitna helping teach Bryant the little things, the big plays come naturally.