Commentary

Dez Bryant on verge of greatness

If healthy, WR will blossom into explosive playmaker Cowboys desperately need

Updated: May 24, 2012, 6:00 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- So far, this has been the best of offseasons for Dez Bryant.

No incidents at any local malls regarding sagging britches. No lawsuits. No drama.

Nice, isn't it?

Now, he did tweet something the other day about possibly taking a trip to Las Vegas with some teammates, but we all know what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

All of this is important because this should be the season Bryant becomes a 1,000-yard receiver with double-digit touchdowns.

If he stays healthy, he will.

No doubt. Whatsoever.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDez Bryant enters his third season after increasing his production in catches, yards and touchdowns from his first year to his second.

That's because Tony Romo is a terrific quarterback. Jason Garrett loves to throw the ball. Miles Austin and Jason Witten will free Bryant up.

Bryant's position coach, Jimmy Robinson, demands diligence to the craft. And Bryant has prodigious talent.

All that's left is for him to consistently produce on the field, something that didn't happen last season.

There were too many invisible quarters. And halves. And games.

It's a joke that a big-play performer such as Bryant has just one 100-yard game his career -- none last season. Especially when 25 of his 108 career receptions have gone for 20 yards or more.

He's scored 15 touchdowns. We've seen him produce the spectacular catch. Or the catch-and-run that leaves us searching our vocabulary for just the right words to describe the play.

But he must become the master of the mundane to join any conversation about the game's best players. The best receivers make a 6-yard catch on third-and-5.

They make the correct hot read, turning a potential sack into a big play. They run the right route every time. They do all the little things to build a rapport and trust with their quarterback, so he knows he can look their way with the game on the line.

Robinson has coached some of the game's best route-runners, such as Marvin Harrison back in the day and Green Bay's Greg Jennings a couple of years ago.

Every day he works with Bryant, Robinson emphasizes the importance of separation and timing and route depth. He talks nonstop about the nuances of running routes, stuff about as boring as an Introduction to Physics class for most of us.

Until Bryant consistently runs good routes, he'll be limited as a receiver and his production will be sporadic.

"I think Dez, like a lot of young players, has to become a more consistent player," Garrett said. "I think he has shown all of us he's capable of doing some great things on the field but you have to do it play in and play out, quarter in and quarter out, and game in and game out.

"It starts in practice. He's working hard running his routes and being disciplined. Hopefully, he can do it in practice, carry it into training camp and the preseason games, and into the regular season."

Bryant is also studying video and the playbook more diligently. He's picking up tips each day from cornerback Brandon Carr, whose locker is next to his, and he's huddling regularly with Romo.

He's also working hard on his body. Part of being an elite player is staying on the field for games and practice.

"Some of the game tape that I watched from last year, I wasn't really too proud of myself, and I know it's because of injuries," Bryant said. "I feel like this year, I'm spending more time focusing on my body and making sure everything is right.

"I see a big change in my weight, in my strength and everything. Coach [Mike] Woicik's doing a great job with us. I feel way more explosive coming out of my cuts."

Bryant isn't a luxury -- not on a team that finished 8-8 in 2011 and has missed the playoffs three of the past four seasons. The Cowboys need him to excel because he can give this offense an element of athleticism and playmaking ability it has lacked.

There's a reason the Cowboys usually rank among the league's leaders in yards per game and in the middle of the pack in points scored.

This offense has lacked playmakers.

Bryant can be a freak on the football field with his combination of speed, power and agility.

Bryant is entering his third season, which is when most talented receivers figure it out and have a breakout season. Atlanta's Roddy White caught 29 passes for 446 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. Two years later, he caught 83 passes for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns.

Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants caught 47 passes for 790 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie in 2009 before catching 76 for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Even Detroit's Calvin Johnson, currently the game's best receiver, needed some time to become a complete receiver.

He caught 48 passes for 756 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, and 67 for 984 yards and five touchdowns in his third season before his monster seasons in 2010 and 2011.

Bryant had more catches (63), yards (928) and touchdowns (nine) in his second season than he did as a rookie.

"He did a pretty good job last year when you look at the production," Robinson said, "and he hasn't even come close to scratching the surface."

And each day there's no drama distracting his focus, Bryant moves closer to maximizing his potential.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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