Commentary

Dez Bryant in a perfect place

Receiver had a quiet offseason, which is exactly what the Cowboys hoped for

Updated: July 19, 2013, 6:52 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

OXNARD, Calif. -- This was the offseason Dez Bryant needed after his phenomenal end to last season.

No embarrassing YouTube videos. No incidents with the police. No lawsuits. No baby mama drama.

Nothing. At all.

Perfect.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDez Bryant dazzled during offseason workouts, but was otherwise quiet -- which is just fine with the Cowboys.

So give Bryant plenty of credit for recognizing he needed to change some aspects of his life, and give the Dallas Cowboys credit for putting him on such a strict behavioral program that Bryant was either going to change or find another employer.

All of this is good because it's allowing Bryant to maximize his potential as he heads into his fourth training camp -- his first as the Cowboys' best player.

Not the best offensive player. Or the best defensive player.

He is the Cowboys' best player.

Don't even try to argue.

Right now, Bryant is the Cowboys' most dynamic player, the dude most likely to change a game's momentum or deliver a game-changing play.

Listen to Bryant, and what he says these days makes sense.

The initial reaction, of course, is to hand out backslaps and talk about how much he's matured. That requires no insight.

What this offseason means is that the impulsive player we've seen the past three seasons seems to truly understand that consequences exist for every decision he makes.

It's either going to be good or bad, but there's going to be a consequence. For most of us, this is elementary.

But Bryant didn't grow up like most of us. He grew up in a world without many boundaries, about 185 miles southeast of Dallas in Lufkin, Texas. And the reality is that Bryant's talent was so immense that even when he screwed up, boundaries rarely existed.

So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Bryant struggled to adjust to professional football.

Now he's poised to become one of the game's best receivers and turn in the best season a Cowboys receiver has ever had.

He's studying to be great, which is different from knowing the playbook.

Bryant has spent this offseason studying Jerry Rice's slant-and-go, Michael Irvin's skinny post and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown's dig route. Bryant's goal is to be a complete receiver who can handle every route on the route tree, making him close to unstoppable.

He's spent the offseason training his body with Sunday afternoon workouts at the middle school around the corner from his DeSoto home, and with late-night sessions on the step mill for an hour at a time, so he can run as fast in the fourth quarter as he does in the first quarter.

Bryant has made improving his rapport with Tony Romo a priority, so he can forge the same type of relationship with his quarterback that Irvin had with Troy Aikman.

"It's my job to get on the same page with Tony. It's not his job to get on the page with me," Bryant said. "We added a new screen in the offseason and after we ran it the first time in practice, I went over to Tony and asked him if he liked the route.

"He wasn't even practicing, but I wanted him to know that it's important that I run the routes the way he wants me to run them -- not the way I want to run them."

See, this guy is all about the details.

When he runs the slant-and-go, he turns his head on the slant -- what better way to sell it? -- before planting his foot and zooming past the defensive back. He's worked on how to deftly maneuver in front of defensive backs on deep balls by using his physical stature without pushing off.

And he's practiced making all of his routes look the same until it's time for him to make his first cut.

Bryant finished with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He caught eight touchdown passes of 20 yards or more.

No one else had more than five.

Improve the way most folks think he will, and Bryant's name will be in the same conversation with Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Houston's Andre Johnson and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald at the end of the season.

That's why he turned down an opportunity to spend a weekend in Las Vegas with a friend, a local cardiologist -- because he didn't want to miss a date with the step mill to hang out on The Strip.

Understand, he's still a 25-year-old dude who likes to go clubbing and slay Internet foes in video games such as "Madden" and "NBA 2K."

Perfection doesn't exist for any of us. Bryant might have another embarrassing incident one day, but if his current behavior continues, we'll view it as an aberration.

Bryant has decided he wants to be a great player -- not just talk about it. You can tell from his actions.

The Cowboys benefit.

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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