- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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"I'm not the old guy!" Bryant said with a kid's goofy grin.
OK, Bryant is a little more than a year younger than Dwayne Harris. However, in terms of NFL experience, Bryant suddenly finds himself as the senior member of the receiving corps as he enters his fifth NFL season at the ripe old age of 25.
The leadership role rests firmly on Bryant's shoulders after the Cowboys cut Miles Austin during the offseason. Truthfully, Bryant has transitioned into that role over the past year due to his ability as much as his experience. It's only natural for young players, such as second-year receiver Terrance Williams or rookie Devin Street, to look to an elite talent to set the tone.
"There's a greater responsibility when you're the best player in the room," receivers coach Derek Dooley said. "People generally look up to guys that have been to Pro Bowls and made these great plays. You can either be an example in a positive way or be an example in a negative way.
"I'm really blessed to have a guy like Dez because he has an incredible work ethic on the field and an incredible desire to get better in his trade. All that does is spill down to the rest of the guys."
All old jokes aside, Bryant takes his responsibility as a leader among the receivers seriously. He helped build a brotherhood-like bond by frequently organizing offseason group dinners, when the receivers would typically shoot the bull until the restaurant closed and Bryant refused to let anyone else pay the bill.
Bryant radiates positivity, often going out of his way to praise the other receivers, publicly and privately. He carefully picks his spots to offer constructive criticism, too.
"He just doesn't talk just to talk," Williams said. "The times he does say something, people listen because it's something that can help us all out. The times he's coaching me, he's coaching the whole group. We all pay attention to the stuff he says, because when he talks, he means it."
More than anything, Bryant sets a tone with his approach to the game. He's attentive and engaged in the meeting room, a far cry from the kid who used to be frequently tardy and struggle to focus in film sessions. Bryant has always epitomized passion on the practice field.
"Dez sets the tone every day at practice," No. 3 receiver Cole Beasley said. "He just has so much fire in him. It pumps all of our receivers up and makes us want to work. That's what he does every day. He comes out here and works hard and pushes us to be better because he's such a freak."
Added Williams: "When you have somebody like that, you don't want to let that guy down."