Dez Bryant has been tearing up Training Camp this year, and so far, he’s looking every bit like the first-round player the Cowboys moved up to get. Many observers have noted how Bryant appears to be dominating defenders seemingly at will.
That’s also how coach Jason Garrett sees the third-year wide receiver, whom he described as "outstanding" in Friday’s noon press conference in Oxnard:
[Dez Bryant] has looked outstanding. Dez has come back, really, starting from the beginning of the offseason. He understands the importance of being physically ready to play. He’s been in the offense now, so he’s understanding what we’re asking him to do more.
Garrett then started talking about the terrific shape Bryant is in, but warned that just because a player has the body of a young Greek god doesn’t mean he’s in NFL shape.
Dez is an interesting guy, and that’s something I’ve talked to him a lot about. He’s one of those guys that has about 4% body fat. He takes his shirt off, he’s carved out of a mountain. There’s a sense that "Boy, I’m in shape, I’m ready to go."
Despite his apparent youth, Garrett has been around the block a few times. This year’s training camp is the 23rd of Garrett’s career, and based on that experience, he uses some of the players he’s been around to define what he expects from Dez Bryant:
The guys that I was around as a player, and the best receivers I have been around as a coach, they could run all day. I tell our guys all the time: Alvin Harper, for all his crazyness as a player, Alvin Harper would run sixteen one-tens at 8:30 in the morning with the 8:30 group, be done about 9:00, turn around and say "Okay, I’ll run with you guys 9:30." Sixteen one-tens at 9:30.
Now Alvin has a track background; he was a great track athlete at Tennessee, so those guys have a little bit of an advantage that way. But he could run all day.
Michael Irvin could run all day long. He runs a nine-route, runs back, runs another nine-route, runs a deep-eight, runs a deep-over route; they could run all day long. Get back in the huddle and here we go.
Dez is one of those guys, as a young player [who thinks] "I’m in shape, I’m 214 pounds, I’m carved out of a mountain, I have 4% bodyfat."
Dez, the description for you is you have to be able to run all day long. All. Day. Long. I can call fifteen nine-routes in a row. You run there, you run back, you run it again, you run back. That’s the point you want to get to.
Having said that, Garrett was quick to point out that Bryant wasn’t starting from zero in that area, but has been making steady progress. So much so that Garrett thinks Bryant is already "hard to defend", again something that has become obvious in camp for almost any observer.
And Dez understands that more and more. He did a great job at different times last year fighting through injuries that he’s had. He had a thigh deal going, he had some other things that he fought through, so he has mental toughness to do it, he just needs to continue to understand the importance of it.
Because when he’s good and explosive and fast coming in and out of his cuts, he’s hard to defend. And you’re seeing a lot of that already.
But it’s not just his conditioning that Bryant needs to continue working on. Garrett describes how Bryant’s youthful exuberance may be one reason why Bryant has had issues performing consistently over an entire game.
The other factor with Dez that I think is important is understanding how to use your energy. A lot of you guys get to our games early, and you see this guy out there, this lefty. Throwing the ball 80 yards in the air. He’s got an unbelievable arm. He’s running around like he’s 10 years old; nobody loves to play football more than Dez Bryant.
He wears out the trainers, he wears out the equipment guys, "Throw me passes! Throw me passes!"
It’s unbelievable. He loves the game. But you have to channel that. And we’ve talked to him a lot about that. About preparing to get yourself ready for practice. We need you in these practice reps. We need you in these game reps. We need you throughout the game. So you need to be able to channel that energy and be mature enough to know when you need to be your best. And I think he’s understanding that better.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a player who wears out trainers and equipment guys. But Garrett is right, as great as all these accolades sound, it’s what Bryant does during games and during practice that counts.
It would be easy to take what Garrett said and twist it in a way that once again paints Dez Bryant as an immature young man who doesn’t take anything seriously. But that’s not what Garrett said. Bryant has incredible physical talent, as the small anecdotes above show. He ticks all the boxes for Passion, Emotion and Enthusiasm, three things that Garrett values very highly in his players. And as Garrett indicates, he’s getting better and better at channeling his passion and his athleticism into on-field performance.
If Bryant’s performance in camp is anything to go by he has taken a big step along that path this year. And if you look closely, every day during breaks in practice here in training camp in Oxnard, chances are you’ll still see a lefty throwing the ball far down the field.