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Friday, April 30, 2010
Bryant's skills come with a catch

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant, the Dallas Cowboys' first-round draft pick and the man Jerry Jones hopes will help Miles Austin carry the passing game, was dead tired.

We mean dead tired in his first practice with the Cowboys on Friday.

He was bent over spitting up water. He missed a few drills to catch his breath. He stood with arms resting on his helmet, trying to get something going with his body.

Ray Sherman, the Dallas wide receivers coach, barked at him to get in shape.

At one point on the first day of the Cowboys' rookie minicamp, Bryant was on his knees and breathing hard. Sherman showed some love by walking over to speak with him. Jim Maurer, the head athletic trainer, took a trip over to make sure the top pick was OK.

Yet while Bryant was working the rest of his body into playing shape, his hands were in midseason form. He made all sorts of catches.

He showed the Cowboys why they traded up from the 27th pick to the 24th, why it was worth dealing with all the complications surrounding him.

Bryant caught one-handed passes, throws behind him, high and right at his chest.

He broke off the ball well, made his cuts on time and made the man who signs the checks around here happy.

"His day was all that we would have expected," Jones said. "He made some very impressive plays out there overall in both practices. He had a really good day."

Sherman said Bryant could stand to lose a few pounds. He's listed at 217 but is really 225. But he's not fat. He's thick with muscle ,and he even joked with Rich Dalrymple, the Cowboys' director of public relations, that he had lost nine pounds.

"He needs to continue to improve," Sherman said. "But he knows that. He has the 'want to' and the urgency. He understands, but he's not there yet."

The Cowboys won't rush Bryant, although if Roy E. Williams struggles again, there is a sense the rookie will start sooner rather than later. Perhaps Wade Phillips will begin to field questions about Bryant's playing status by the bye week in the first week of October.

"He's got tremendous skills, that's obvious," Phillips said. "He's [got] ability to catch the football and has ability to adjust to the football and catch it, and he has the ability to run with it when he catches it. His skill coming off the football, he really comes off the ball fast and plays fast. That's a good start. He gets up on our defensive backs, you can see that."

Bryant is staying humble while receiving praise from coaches and teammates.

Everyone associated with the Cowboys will tell you Bryant is a good kid who had a terrible foundation growing up. His family status is well-documented. The latest on that came Friday, when Bryant denied telling Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland that his dad was a pimp, which reports say is what prompted the executive to ask whether the receiver's mother had been a prostitute.

Bryant said he's trying to move past all that.

"It did bother me, but it doesn't bother me anymore," Bryant said of the negative attention. "I'm fine, my family's fine, we're great. We faced a lot of criticism, but things are great now. We've moved ahead. I'm happy, my family's happy; that's what matters."

It also matters what Bryant does on the field.

Last season, the Cowboys' leading receiver was Austin with 1,320 yards. Tight end Jason Witten followed with 1,030 yards. After them, Patrick Crayton picked up 622 yards and Williams 596.

If Bryant gets about 700 yards, it will mean the roles of Williams and Crayton were reduced.

Jason Garrett, the offensive coordinator, said it's a process for Bryant right now and warned against getting too excited.

However, after watching all the catches between the gasps for air, you can't help but be excited for what the Cowboys have in the future.

"I feel like I'm going to get used to it real quick," Bryant said of the NFL tempo. "I'm enjoying it, I felt comfortable, just loving it right now."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.