A maturing Dez Bryant expects success

June, 3, 2014
6/03/14
11:10
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dez Bryant you've seen the past four seasons is still here, at least on the field. He will continue to amaze with one-handed catches, foot speed, physical play and how he dominates games. He will be challenged by the opponent's best cornerback.

Richard Sherman vs. Dez Bryant in 2014. Get ready.

The difference between this Dez Bryant and the one you've seen before, though, will be from a mental standpoint.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellDez Bryant caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards last season for the Cowboys.
He is 25. Young in years but experienced in the NFL. Bryant is the veteran of the Cowboys wide receivers. He doesn't have Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton or Miles Austin to lean on anymore.

The 2014 Dallas Cowboys have morphed into Tony Romo's team, but it's also Bryant's. The Cowboys receivers have turned into a younger unit, and Bryant leads the charge.

It's the reason why Austin was sent away. The Cowboys could have worked another contract to keep him around, but why deal with his nagging hamstrings and commitment to the game?

Bryant doesn't have commitment issues.

"I'm just me," Bryant said. "I come into this locker room each and every day with the same approach: that's try to bring in a positive vibe, especially for the wideout group. We do a great job of learning from one another and set the tempo for the whole team when we go out on that practice field. I think team chemistry is real important, so I'm just going to continue doing what I'm doing to make that happen."

Bryant enters a contract year, and the Cowboys plan on keeping him either by franchise tag or long-term deal. He is the future at this position on the field and one of the NFL's rising stars.

The Cowboys are always cautious with Bryant. Team officials love his passion and what he brings to the field. Off the field, there will be moments with Bryant, but coaches and ownership don't believe it's anything abnormal.

If the Cowboys were worried about Bryant and his off-field antics, a veteran would have been running around the Valley Ranch practice fields by now. If the off-field issues were a problem for Bryant, extending him wouldn't be a topic of discussion.

Jason Garrett tells this story about Bryant's dedication to the game and how it reminds him of former teammate and Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin.

"But I couldn't help when I'm watching the special-teams period and I see this No. 88 walking over to the JUGS," Garrett said. "He's over there by himself with a couple of managers, hammering footballs at him, catching balls. 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. He's just such a natural, a natural catching the football."

During the offseason workouts, Bryant is in the weight room encouraging players to lift more weights. He's encouraging teammates to run harder and beg for more work.

Bryant's commitment has never been stronger.

When you're 25, maturity questions rise up. There were the sideline antics in Detroit last year when he was yelling and pleading for the offense to do more. He left the Green Bay game before it ended, angry at his team losing a double-digit lead.

The perception is Bryant is out of control and thinking only of himself.

The reality is he's thinking about Terrance Williams. Jason Witten. Dwayne Harris. DeMarco Murray. Romo.

He wants them to get better so he can improve as well.

This is the Dez Bryant you will see in 2014.

"Hopefully. I still look at it as a huge misunderstanding from the people's point of view," he said. "I've always been a team guy, and I always will be. It may look crazy, but it's more motivational speaking. That's what I do. I'm a totally different player when I'm on the field."
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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