Focused Bryant willing to put in work
Receivers coach Jimmy Robinson sets -- and demands -- a high standard from players
SAN ANTONIO -- He'll either be one of the best playmakers in Dallas Cowboys history or one of the franchise's biggest disappointments.
With Dez Bryant, there's rarely much middle ground. And there aren't any excuses, at least not anymore.
Bryant, the second-year receiver/return man/lightning rod, is talented enough to be the best receiver to ever wear a star on his helmet. That's quite a mouthful considering that Bob Hayes and Michael Irvin have busts in Canton, Ohio, but a receiver with Bryant's combination of size, strength, speed, leaping ability, elusiveness, acrobatic skills and Hoover-like hands has the potential to rank among the all-time greats.
All Bryant needs is somebody to kick his butt on a daily basis.
Welcome to Texas, Jimmy Robinson.
The Cowboys didn't recruit Robinson off the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers' staff to continue the coddling of Bryant, who will replace released Roy Williams as a starter after an injury-shortened, occasionally spectacular rookie season. Jason Garrett made Robinson -- a no-nonsense man with 27 seasons of NFL playing and coaching experience -- the Cowboys' assistant head coach/receivers coach in large part because he's the perfect guy to teach Bryant how to be a professional.
There won't be any Keepin' It Real Thursdays under Robinson. Unlike previous Cowboys receivers coach Ray Sherman, Robinson is not concerned about being buddies with his players. Robinson hopes his receivers like him, but he says it's not a prerequisite. His job is to set a high standard for the receivers -- especially Bryant -- and demand that they meet it.
"You're just in his ear all day, every day, every play," Robinson said after Thursday's practice at the Alamodome. "You're just on top of him and you coach every single detail of every single play. There's nothing that's unimportant. Everything's important. All the details, all the little things add up to big things."
Robinson has a willing pupil in Bryant. As much as Bryant's immaturity has been an issue -- and it's the only reason the Cowboys were able to draft a top-five talent at No. 24 overall last year -- the receiver wants to do right.
Bryant is saying all the right things these days. He refuses to use his painful, traumatic upbringing as a crutch. He apologizes for the off-field, offseason embarrassments -- the silly confrontation with NorthPark mall security, the civil suits filed by jewelers he hasn't paid -- and says he has matured.
His primary goals this season are simple and could be considered proof Bryant actually gets it. He wants to stay focused and show coaches and teammates that they can count on them.
Bryant, whose fines for tardiness as a rookie hit six figures, plans to prove that he can be a professional.
"Being focused, being on time and being accountable and making sure that your coaches and teammates can trust in you," Bryant said, providing his definition of professionalism. "That's the challenge I'm putting on myself."
Bryant, who is obviously an upgrade over the unproductive Williams, began the process of earning his teammates' trust and building rapport with quarterback Tony Romo during the spring. He didn't just show up to the voluntary player-run workouts. He showed up on time, in good shape and worked hard.
That was a step in the right direction. It'll get tougher in training camp. It's time for Bryant to prove he has more than a beginner's grasp of Garrett's playbook.
It's not enough for a reliable receiver to know what route he's supposed to run -- and that wasn't even always the case for Bryant as a rookie. He has to always line up with the perfect splits, run precise routes at the proper depths, know exactly when and how to adjust his routes based on blitzes and coverages.
"That's got to be the starting point," said Robinson, who has coached elite receivers such as Marvin Harrison and Greg Jennings but says he's never had a player with Bryant's ability. "There has never been a question about the talent, about the physical tools, but he has to be assignment perfect."
Bryant can be pretty good without being well-prepared. He proved that last season when he caught 45 passes for 561 yards and six touchdowns and scored twice more on punt returns in 12 games. He displayed flashes of brilliance despite missing most of his final college season due to an NCAA suspension, most of training camp and the entire preseason due to a high ankle sprain and dealing with self-inflicted delays to his development.
Just imagine how good this guy can be if he really does get it, if he fully commits himself to the daily grind.
Everybody knows Bryant is capable of the spectacular, the acrobatic grabs in traffic. He'll be elite if he can consistently do the boring things, like adjusting his route after recognizing a blitz and making a 7-yard catch on third-and-6.
"He's a guy that we believe just can continue to grow and grow as a player," Garrett said. "He plays with great passion, emotion and enthusiasm. Anybody who watches him play can see that. We, as coaches, love that. We believe his teammates love that. That's what we want in our football players. So when you go about it the way he has, and you're as talented as he is, now he gets more of an opportunity.
"There's no reason for us to think that he can't continue to get better."
There's no reason Bryant shouldn't be great. All he has to do is listen to the gray-haired guy barking in his ear all day, every day, every play.
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.
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