Bar is set high for Dez Bryant
Expectations of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver are a testament to his talent
It's amazing how quickly people around these parts will try to chase Dez Bryant out of town.
We witnessed that phenomenon again this week when Percy Harvin took his pouting public in Minnesota. Perhaps it's because this is a slow week in the local sports scene, but the possibility of the Cowboys entertaining a Dez-for-Percy deal suddenly dominated the sports talk radio airwaves.
It's an irrelevant debate because the Vikings aren't about to trade Harvin, but I don't understand the desire to dump Bryant.
Bryant made major strides in professionalism and performance last season, his second in the NFL. Granted, there is still plenty of room for improvement in both departments. Bryant realizes that, and he's reminded of it on a regular basis by all the prominent Valley Ranch people who are pushing him to reach his potential.
The fact that Bryant is perceived as an underachiever is a testament to his talent. He had a pretty darn good year despite being limited by a deep thigh bruise last season, ranking 30th in the league with 928 receiving yards and tied for sixth with nine touchdown catches -- stats that are significantly better than the ones posted by Harvin in his second season.
The bar for Bryant is much higher. Detroit's Calvin Johnson is the only wide receiver in the league right now who is clearly more physically gifted than Bryant. Because of that, Bryant is expected to a be a Pro Bowler.
I'd bet that Bryant makes that leap this season, shutting up a bunch of people in the process.
On to the mailbag ...
Q: Do you think there are any current players with expiring contracts (1 year or 2 years left) that should be re-signed by the Cowboys before their 2012 season performance inflates their price tag? (Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher, etc.) -- Xavier Ortiz, Bronx, N.Y.
A: Xavier, I don't see any contracts that should be extended before the season begins. Spencer needs to produce as a pass-rusher before the Cowboys would be convinced he's worth the kind of money he wants in a long-term deal. They have a couple of young defensive ends on the come (Sean Lissemore and third-round pick Tyrone Crawford), so Hatcher isn't a priority at this point. Tony Romo might be the most likely to get an extension, but that can wait until after the season.
Q: Do the expectations for improvement of the offensive line solely rest on Bill Callahan, since the center position was apparently not addressed? -- Todd Allen, Hitchcock, Texas
A: The Cowboys did sign a couple of guards (Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau) they hope will be upgrades over Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland. Neither, however, are sure things. Livings was inconsistent for the Bengals, and Bernadeau didn't start for the Panthers last season. Tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free flipping sides could help, too. But the Cowboys hope Callahan can make a major difference after replacing Hudson Houck, who was nudged into retirement. Callahan's most important long-term job is guiding Smith into greatness. His biggest short-term challenge: masking the weakness at center.
A: Can't be certain until we at least see Claiborne practice, but it appears that the Cowboys turned cornerback from a glaring weakness into a strength this offseason. Safety is still a concern, however. Gerald Sensabaugh got paid last season and then struggled down the stretch. He's best suited to be a strong safety paired with a rangy playmaker, but the Cowboys don't have that type of safety on their roster.
Q: Even though Callahan has the title "Offensive Coordinator" what are the odds of us actually seeing him in charge of the playbook? What are the odds that Jason Garrett turns over the actual act of "play calling" to him? -- DCBlueStar, Tampa, Fla.
A: About the same as the odds of the Cowboys signing Terrell Owens to be their third receiver. Garrett is going to continue to call plays, period. But Callahan will play a critical role of helping create the game plan during the week, and he won't hesitate during games to suggest specific running plays or pass protections to run. I don't think it's a coincidence that Garrett's most successful season as a play-caller came when he worked with Tony Sparano. There's no reason Callahan can't play just as significant a role.
Q: Do you see Garrett being the head coach of the Cowboys if he misses the playoffs again this year?
A: I don't see Garrett's job being in any jeopardy for at least a couple of years. Jerry Jones is convinced he has the long-term solution at head coach, and he's going to give Garrett every chance to prove him right.