OXNARD, Calif. (AP) Dez Bryant quickly turned his head toward a reporter who asked him about being the elder statesman among Dallas receivers.
”I’m not the old guy!” the 25-year-old said, raising his voice before flashing a smile. ”I’m not. I’m still one of the youngest.”
But Bryant is one of the oldest in the receiving group for the Cowboys, and by far the most accomplished.
He’s going into the final season of his rookie contract with the potential of a big pay day looming. And his answers on that topic sound more like a leader than the troubled rookie who didn’t pay his jewelry bills four years ago.
”There is no need for me to be stressed out or worried about it,” Bryant said. ”I really can’t have my mind focused on that because I have guys here who are counting on me and I can’t be selfish.”
Bryant has carried that label in the minds of many outside the Dallas locker room since he refused to carry Roy Williams’ shoulder pads in his first training camp in 2010. That was around the same time he was sued by a jeweler and caused a stir by wearing sagging pants in an upscale Dallas mall.
The most serious issue for Bryant away from the field came two years later when he was accused of hitting his mom in a domestic disturbance.
”Really, truthfully, trying to be honest, a lot of stuff I didn’t understand then, was really asking myself what was going on,” Bryant said in one of several candid moments during the offseason. ”Like I said, just had to figure out what it was and get on the right track and remain on the right track. I honestly feel like that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Now Bryant is the one declaring there will be no hazing of rookies at camp in California. He might not want to be called ”old,” but he also knows what the release of eight-year veteran Miles Austin meant for his role.
Forget the intangibles. Just take the numbers. The other 10 receivers on the Dallas camp roster have combined for barely half of Bryant’s 4,104 career yards. Bryant has 34 touchdowns in the past three seasons – twice that of the other receivers. He has 40 scores in four years.
”Because of the experience, yeah, but other than that nothing has changed,” Bryant said. ”Everybody, in the wide receiver group, looks at each other as the same and that’s how I want it and that’s how they want it and that’s how we’re going to keep it.”
Defenses won’t look at it that way, which is why quarterback Tony Romo talks to Bryant about new ways of making himself better.
”He’s already good but now he can dig in and find those little things that only he knows,” Romo said. ”You can try to help him see it as a quarterback or a coach but he knows something he can perfect and be better at and the people would never see it naturally but he can take it and go practice it.”
Bryant made more negative headlines last season with sideline antics in losses to Detroit and Green Bay that forced him and others to try to explain his behavior. He never lost the backing of Romo and tight end Jason Witten, and still stands by a passionate approach that he says fueled those emotional moments.
”I feel like I’m still rising,” Bryant said. ”To me, it’s almost kind of scary just because of the fact of how much I love the game, not only myself, I want my teammates to be great. The way I feel, I don’t hesitate to share that with my teammates.”
He also hasn’t lost the backing of coach Jason Garrett, Bryant’s frequent pass-and-catch partner in practice and on game days.
”I can’t begin to tell in so many different ways how’s he’s gotten better,” Garrett said. ”He’s gotten much more mature as a person. He handles the game in a much more professional manner than he did when he got here. It shows up in his play.”
Even though Bryant insists it doesn’t show up in his age.
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