Injury holding back Bryant's progress

IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett was asked if the Detroit Lions did anything to shut down Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant in the second half Sunday.

The answer was direct and spoke volumes about the talented second-year wideout.

"Not really," Garrett said.

In the 2011 season, Bryant has just two second-half catches and zero in the last two minutes of games.

Last year, Bryant had 22 catches with three touchdowns in the second half.

It's only a month into the 2011 season, and there is some fine-tuning for the talented receiver to do.

"Dez did a really good job the last couple weeks of playing through his injury that he's had," Garrett said. "It's been hard because he hasn't been able to practice very much, but he's gotten himself to the point where he's been able to loosen that thing up and get through ballgames."

Bryant's injury, a nagging quad contusion, has bothered him since the season opener. He has missed valuable practice time while trying to rehab the injury.

It seems Bryant's technique has been compromised due to his health. For example, on Bryant's six-yard touchdown reception against the Lions, he took a jab step that didn't shake cornerback Eric Wright. It was supposed to give him some space by juking Wright to move toward his left.

With Wright stationary, Bryant ran toward the goal line and quarterback Tony Romo threw to the outside. But Bryant ran into Wright and still caught the pass.

There are other times when Bryant runs routes that are hard to recognize. His injury prevents him from pushing off with a burst so he can get up on defenders more quickly. The Cowboys are not worried because Romo has developed a chemistry with Bryant and over time the little things he must do to get better will work out.

"But at the same time, in order to continue to grow your repertoire as a receiver, you need that practice time," Garrett said. "Again, he's done a great job battling through this injury and keeping kind of fighting as the week goes on to get himself ready to play. This will be a good couple of weeks for him to take a breath, get that thing right and hopefully practice and get into the normal game-week routine come New England."

The injury has forced Bryant to miss working with the offense because he's getting rehab. Bryant said he expects to be 100 percent when the Cowboys face the New England Patriots on Oct. 16 because the bye week should give him time to get healthy.

Bryant has been described as a "freak talent" by NFL personnel. Yet, Bryant doesn't get the ball enough due to the defense shading two defenders his way, his own lack of route running and the struggles of making adjustments to the defense.

It's not the end of the world, because, in time, Bryant will get better.

Terrell Owens wasn't a good route runner when he played for the Cowboys, but when he was able to get the ball, he made plays.

It's rare to get a receiver that's the complete package: Playbook knowledge with excellent route running skills.
Bryant knows the offense and is still learning to make adjustments within it when defenses disguise coverages.

Wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said Bryant and other young receivers have a long way to go.

Bryant's health raises concerns about his long-term ability to make plays. He battled injuries his rookie year and was knocked out the last month with an ankle fracture. Garrett preaches playing through nagging injuries and voiced that Bryant needs to do that.

If Bryant is rehabbing, he can't work on the little things that can help the Cowboys utilize his talent.

"Our training staff has done a great job trying to get as much work with him as possible without taking any backward steps on the thigh bruise, but that's definitely a factor," Garrett said. "Receivers need to be able to run throughout the ballgame, and when you don't practice and you don't run throughout the week, it's hard for you to maintain the pace that you need to maintain throughout a 60-minute game."

Bryant is a fun-loving player who plays with such confidence that he's gotten into verbal confrontations with cornerbacks and coaches.

He's not afraid of the moment, and the Cowboys hope he's not afraid to learn how to get better.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.