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Wednesday, October 19, 2011
How worthy an 88 will Dez Bryant be?

By Dan Graziano

The Dallas Cowboys' offense was supposed to be firing on all cylinders last week in New England with top wide receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant healthy and on the field together for the first time since Week 1. And yet, while they were able to move the ball for most of the game, they couldn't score the touchdown or pick up the first down they needed to put the game away in the fourth quarter. Some of that had to do with the ankle injury to running back Felix Jones, some with unimaginative play calling by coach Jason Garrett and some with the fact that Bryant didn't have a single catch down the stretch.

What's the issue with Bryant, who looks like an elite wideout at times and disappears at others? There are, unsurprisingly, a number of theories. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones suggests Bryant needs to concentrate harder on learning and running his routes, for instance. And Bryant is a second-year pro who's missed chunks of his first two seasons due to injury, so it's possible time will take care of that.

But as Tim MacMahon writes on ESPNDallas.com, Bryant wears No. 88 for the Cowboys. And because of a couple of guys who wore that number in the past -- Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin -- there's significance and no small bit of pressure that comes with that uniform number. Tim worries that Bryant may be at risk of emulating another, far more disappointing No. 88:
This is such a rare talent that Jones deemed it worth the risk to trade up to end the first-round freefall. The Cowboys decided they could live with the downside to get top-10 quality with the 24th overall pick despite being burned by a similar gamble on Antonio Bryant, a Biletnikoff Award winner whose character issues caused him to slide to the bottom of the 2002 second round.

While Dez Bryant has a clean criminal record, he is guilty of chronic immaturity and irresponsibility. That has manifested itself in many ways during his brief pro career.

There haven't been any unforgivable incidents -- like, oh, throwing a sweaty jersey in the head coach's face on the practice field -- but Bryant's behavioral paper cuts have caused plenty of blood to be lost.

He racked up six figures worth of fines for being late to meetings and rehab sessions as a rookie, an issue he has improved but not eliminated this season. There was the well-publicized, silly run-in over sagging pants with off-duty police working as security at an upscale mall. He still hasn't settled one of his two six-figure debts for jewelry and tickets acquired before the draft. And on and on and on.

That immaturity is also evident in Bryant's game.

A worthwhile point, but again, too early to say. Bryant can be anything he wants to be if he hones his talent and works on his game. But that "other" Bryant who wore 88 so recently for the Cowboys stands as a worthwhile reminder of what can happen when you don't. And until we see Dez Bryant perform with the kind of consistent, healthy brilliance that represents his talent level, we're always going to wonder if his other issues will end up being the story of his career.