Dez Bryant just beginning to blossom
It's never easy to mature.
It can take years. Sometimes people grow into their 40s before they finally become responsible adults.
The 2010 season has been marvelous for Bryant with his acrobatic catches, speed and forcefulness. He is third on the team in catches (44) and yards (547) but first in receiving touchdowns (six). He's also returned two punts for touchdowns.
But it's also been a time of frustration for him.
Early in the season he was late to numerous team meetings. He even fell asleep in some of them. Now, 12 weeks in, he's getting his beauty sleep the night before and arriving on time.
"He's on time in meetings," receivers coach Ray Sherman said. "We just talk about alignments and splits and making sure he's consistent with that. When you throw a lot of things at a young guy you have to make sure he gets lined up properly."
Mastering the playbook at times has also been a struggle for Bryant. In the huddle, quarterbacks Tony Romo and Jon Kitna or other players such as Miles Austin, often whisper little things in Bryant's ear.
It's not uncommon for a rookie to not know everything. It happens because the complexity of the NFL game can take years to master.
Bryant is trying to master it on the fly.
"Yeah, I just wonder how long that's going to last," Roy Williams said of Bryant's learning curve. "Every time he touches the ball you're on the edge of your seat, it's like, what's going to happen. I'm the same way on the sideline, go Dez, go Dez. He's an exciting football player, exciting."
The men in charge of mentoring Bryant from rookie sensation into budding star are pushing him every day.
David Wells, a bail bondsman consultant, took Bryant in when nobody else would after he was suspended last year for lying to NCAA investigators while at Oklahoma State. Wells has weekly talks with Bryant at his home in DeSoto, Texas, about maturing. Bryant also talks with team player development director Bryan Wansley about growing up.
Wells heard that Bryant was late to one meeting at Valley Ranch because he was asleep on the couch in the Cowboys' locker room.
"I took the David Wells hat off and put the father's hat on," Wells said. "I told him this is about business. You have to treat the NFL like when you get on that field it's walking into a board meeting. He started listening and said, 'I have to be better. I have to be a better man.'"
On the sidelines during the Cowboys' 30-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving Day, Bryant was yelling.
It isn't known if Bryant was upset at not making any catches, though the team threw to him six times in the loss. But it was clear Bryant wasn't happy.
Wells said Bryant, who still lives with him, didn't talk about the game until the next day. But he wasn't alone. Williams, who committed a critical fumble that led to the Saints' go-ahead touchdown, was also silent when he got home that night.
The competitiveness in players is prevalent in the Cowboys' locker room and that is where Bryant fits in.
So when Sherman hears Bryant go off on the sidelines he doesn't mind it; it tells him he's got a player who cares about how he performs.
"Dez is very competitive," Austin said. "You have to like that in any player."
Bryant is so competitive that during a pickup basketball game he bet some teenagers he would take their clothes if he beat them.
"At the end of the night we had to loan these kids some sweats," Wells said, laughing.
Bryant, who declined numerous requests for comment, has been described as a freak talent by Sherman. His teammates marvel at his ability to make catches. Romo still talks about a catch Bryant made while landing out of bounds early in the season.
It's clear Bryant loves football. Before practice starts, he plays catch with whoever is there. Bryant will throw passes to Austin or an equipment man. Bryant catches every one.
All Bryant wants to do is play ball. The other stuff -- meetings, studying, etc. -- will come in time.
The Cowboys just hope the maturity portion of it comes sooner rather than later.
"This guy has a tremendous future," Sherman said. "I love that it's a challenge to me. I always like to prove people wrong about a guy and so far he's doing the right things."