When Dallas hired Wide Receivers coach Jimmy Robinson from the Green Bay Packers last season, many fans lauded the move due to the lengthy list of wideouts that Robinson had mentored in his career. Andre Rison, Marvin Harrison, Amani Toomer, Joe Horn, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings; yeah, this guy has the credentials. The hope was that he would be able to get his mitts on a talented yet raw receiver by the name of Dez Bryant and elevate him to the lofty status of some of his other proteges. Well, we all know how last offseason worked out; locked out and eviscerated.
While Robinson obviously was able to work with Bryant during the season; teaching sessions are quite a bit different when there is a gameplan being implemented as opposed to when your only focus is improving how you perform your craft. That is truly only available to you during the spring and summer. Finally, the two are having a chance to work with each other the way things were intended.
"The teaching sessions got off to a good start. He’s out here working really, really hard to get better," Robinson said. "It’s got to make a difference. If it doesn’t, then what’s the point of the offseason program? I’m confident it’s going to help."
"He’s doing great. Having a good offseason," Robinson said. "Working really hard and getting better out there every day. Again, that’s got to carry over to the next phase, to the OTAs and training camp and then regular season, game day."
Good news, but did you hear the caveat Robinson included? He doesn't want Dez resting or thinking he's got it. "Again, that's got to carry over to the next phase." Truer words have never been spoken; despite the acceptable[/edit] numbers Dez has produced, there is still plenty of proof in the pudding to be shown to his detractors.
Last month, right before the draft kicked off, I penned a news piece that included a tidbit about then-rookie Patrick Peterson from the Arizona Cardinals when he was being recorded by NFL Films. The rookie corner, who to that point had sizzled as a punt returner but hadn't yet been too impressive as a corner, was checking Dez Bryant on a number of snaps. He must have been very pleased with himself to the point that a clip shown on NFL Network's "Hey Rookie, Welcome to the NFL" showed him bragging to teammate Adrian Wilson that Dez Bryant "ain't got nothing but three routes".
Peterson's reason for the cockiness? In that Week 13 game, he tallied his first positive game grade according to Pro Football Focus since Week three against Seattle. To that point, there were grades of -2.3, -2.5, -2.6, -2.7 and even a -6.6 on his ledger. While Bryant ended up with 8 catches, it was on 14 targets and only for 86 yards. Six yards a target is not a good statistic for a receiver; it's elite for a cornerback.
Follow the jump for much more...
Now you might have read the first few stanzas and think that I am anti-Dez Bryant; far from it.
Dez is one of my favorite players. I love the passion he brings to the game and how he fights for every inch imaginable with the ball in his hands. If all 22 starters fought that hard on every play; we wouldn't be ending seasons at 8-8; and that includes some of our other superstars whom I won't call out by name for fear of my own internet safety. See, I'm neither optimist nor pessimist; kool-aid drinker nor pissed-in-wheaties eater. I see both sides of the coin and hope that the better outcome wins the coin flip that inevitably decides matters in this thing we love called sports. That's where we are with Dez Bryant.
He has all the talent in the world; he has yet to master it. He has the built-in excuse of still not having an offseason of camps to learn the offense; however it is not like he can't sit and learn a route tree on his own if he really wanted to. It doesn't take NFL coaches to do that; he can take his playbook to an old high school coach and work on these things. Those of us in his corner can defend him all we want to, but when a struggling rookie corner is caught on tape saying that a receiver is only running three different routes; is there really any denying that portion of his game was behind the learning curve?
It really doesn't make sense for Dez to only rely on physical attributes alone if that's really the case. Of course, this is the instant gratification NFL. No longer do we wait three seasons for wide receivers to "get it" and become productive; though we probably should. What happens if the lights come on this season for Dez? What happens if those great statistics, and they really are gaudy numbers, really have been earned through sheer physical skill and the mental aspect of his game catches up to everything else? Imagine what we could be looking at come September.
To start off with, Dez Bryant simply does not drop anything thrown in his vicinity. He led the league with the lowest drop rate in '11 according to PFF with a low 1.54% of drops on catchable balls thrown his way. Next closest? 2.44%. Although his opportunities were limited, he didn't drop a single deep pass thrown to him (7). Tony Romo had a QB Rating of 102.7 for the season. When throwing to Dez? 110.8
And remember, even in that Arizona Cardinals game when he was only managing 6 yards a target; it was Dez Bryant who ended up with a crucial late-fourth quarter grab that put Dallas in winning-field goal position. Forget how the game ended, he came through in the clutch despite people saying he doesn't show up in the fourth quarter. He showed up major in the fourth quarter of both Washington games too; 3rd and 18 in the first one and 3rd and 15 in the last. Oh, and that was him with the huge punt return against Miami on Thanksgiving that set up that game-winning drive as well. So out of 16 games, that's 4 clutch plays off the top of my head that put the team in game-winning position... sounds like the type of impact one looks for out of a first-round receiver.
So there is plenty of hope on that side of the coin. We just have to hope Dez is doing all of the things, big or little, that will help sway the odds in favor of a becoming a breakout star. As for what Jimmy Robinson is seeing?
Robinson was asked how he judges the progress of a player like Bryant in the offense.
"Just play by play. How’s he doing? Is he picking up things well? Is he making mistakes? Is he repeating mistakes?" Robinson said. "It’s a real gradual play-by-play, day-by-day process. It takes a lot of time."
Is Bryant working on anything specific?
Robinson said, "Not really. It’s a whole lot of things, everything. I guess you could say we’re working on everything. But he’s off to a good start."