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OXNARD, Calif. -- Receiver Dez Bryant, fresh off a breakout season and drama-free offseason, sees himself as a blossoming leader for the Dallas Cowboys.
That would have sounded crazy a year ago, when the Cowboys kept Bryant off-limits to the media during training camp after the turmoil in his personal life reached a boiling point with a July arrest on a misdemeanor charge stemming from an altercation with his mother.
Now, owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett gush about how much Bryant has matured, helping him tap into his immense potential and emerge as one of the NFL's elite playmakers. Bryant had 879 yards and 10 touchdowns in the second half of 2012, finishing with career highs of 1,382 yards and 12 scores to cement his status as a focal point of the Cowboys' offense.
"I think there's no backwards for me," Bryant said during an engaging 13-minute session with the media after dominating Tuesday's practice. "I feel like I got that role here to lead by example doing all the right things and me being in that role to make sure these guys are doing the right thing. Not only on the field, but off the field.
"I take that to heart. I'm doing everything that I'm supposed to and it don't feel like, 'Hey, I'm structured, I gotta do this.' I'm doing it out of my own heart. This is the type of guy I am. I'm not a bad guy. I feel like I owe it to these guys coming in."
I think there's no backwards for me. I feel like I got that role here to lead by example doing all the right things and me being in that role to make sure these guys are doing the right thing. Not only on the field, but off the field.” -- Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant on being a leader
Bryant, whose tough upbringing in Lufkin, Texas, has been well chronicled, acknowledges that his career took off when he found peace in his personal life. But his success simply whetted his appetite and intensified his work ethic.
Garrett called it gratifying to see Bryant enjoy success after changing after buying into what the coaches preach and improving his habits in his personal life and professional career.
"We're real proud of Dez, the approach that he has taken, his consistency in meetings, walkthroughs, on the practice field," Garrett said. "It has a lot to do with maturity he's made as a person. It reflects in his play.
"When you're doing those things and doing things the right way, there is no way you can't gain confidence. When a guy like that has confidence to add to his ability, he really becomes a heck of a player."
Jones, who traded up to select Bryant with the 24th overall pick after off-field issues caused the receiver to slide in the 2010 draft, said he was "impressed" with how Bryant has handled himself over the last year.
"It means a lot," Bryant said. "I give a lot of credit to them. They stuck their neck out for me and they stayed with me. The time when I didn't understand certain things, they did their best to help me understand things. And those things that I do understand now, that makes me that much more of a better person.
"Like I said, that all takes a role on me helping those younger guys on what I've learned from them. From the older guys, to [Tony] Romo, to Miles [Austin], to [DeMarcus] Ware, to [Jason] Hatcher, it's all those guys. I'll take what they give me and pass it on to somebody else. I feel like I'm so comfortable in my life. That's what it's about."
At this point, the 24-year-old Bryant is determined to find out just how good he can be. He has said that he believes he's capable of becoming the first 2,000-yard receiver in NFL history, but that's not his goal. He wants to establish himself as the best receiver in the NFL, but he channels Garrett when he said the focus is simply on working hard and "putting days together."
A comfortable, confident Bryant considers it his responsibility to be a leader for a Dallas team trying to get back into the playoffs after a three-year drought.
"I feel good. I feel great," Bryant said. "I thank Tony [Romo]. I thank all the coaches for counting on my and putting that trust in me to know everything the way I do. I feel like it's my job to pay them back by going out and working hard."