IRVING, Texas — Dez Bryant knows the next four weeks leading up to Dallas Cowboys training camp are just as important as anything that will happen on the field this season. It has been 11 months since he was arrested on charges of domestic violence involving an incident with his mother.
In the aftermath of that July incident, Bryant’s career hung in the balance. No one doubted his immense potential on the field, but he seemed incapable of handling things away from it. He went through court-appointed counseling sessions with his mother, and he surrounded himself with a security detail when he was away from Valley Ranch.
Those close to him insist that he has changed his life for the better and no longer puts himself in bad situations. In a phone interview with FOXSportsSouthwest.com on Tuesday, Bryant’s longtime mentor David Wells credited NBA legend Michael Jordan for teaching the wide receiver how to be more professional.
I honestly believed all the stories last month about Bryant’s association with Nike’s Jordan Brand seemed a little forced. But Wells said Tuesday that Jordan and Bryant speak by phone twice a week and exchange text messages on a regular basis. He also said that Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul has been instrumental in Bryant’s development. (Hear that, Mark Cuban?)
“They almost treat him like a little brother,” Wells said. “Dez started listening to older people instead of the young guys. Those guys are both married and have stable lives. And that’s something Dez craves.”
Bryant is only the seventh NFL player to sign with the Jordan Brand. He signed a three-year deal, but he made it clear to Jordan that he wanted to prove that he truly had changed as a person before being compensated. Bryant won’t be paid until the second year of the contract, according to a source.
“It just adds fuel to trying to do things great at all times,” Bryant told reporters last month. “That’s something you don’t want to mess up. Now, I do pay attention to that, just because of the fact of who he is and what he is about. Everybody knows Michael Jordan is about his business, so that make you want to be about yours.”
In March, Bryant showed up unannounced at rally against domestic abuse that was spearheaded by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Wells said he and Bryant parked several blocks from the rally and walked over with dozens of attendees. The Cowboys wide receiver asked if he could say a few words in front of a crowd of thousands.
“It’s just something he took the initiative to do on his own,” Wells said. “He wanted to offer his support to the cause.”
It was yet another sign that Bryant is serious about getting his life in order. From a football standpoint, this has been the best offseason of his career. By all accounts, he was present for every session of the Cowboys’ conditioning program. And he was dominant during the mandatory minicamp last week.
He struggled with his conditioning his first two years in the league, but he now refuses to take a break during team drills. And he and second-year cornerback Morris Claiborne went at each other like crazy. Head coach Jason Garrett admitted to being wowed by Bryant’s ability to make acrobatic catches, but the coach also works hard to keep the wide receiver grounded. Garrett talked about a 50-yard touchdown that Bryant caught last week during which he didn’t run the route properly.
Last season, Bryant caught 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has told people this offseason that his goal is to crack the 2,000-yard mark. He has raved about new wide receivers coach Derek Dooley, who has proved to be an excellent technician. It’s the third wide receivers coach Bryant has played for since entering the league, but he seems to have clicked with Dooley a lot faster than he did with Jimmy Robinson. Bryant believes he can rival Detroit’s Calvin Johnson as the best receiver in the NFL.
But the 24-year-old Bryant isn’t just concerned about his own numbers. He couldn’t stop talking about rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams last week. He has spent a ton of time with Williams before and after practice and believes the Baylor product has remarkable talent. Wells again credits Jordan for Bryant’s desire to become a mentor to younger players.
“That’s one of the things that Michael Jordan preached to him,” Wells said. “He wants him to develop as a leader.”
Wells, a former bail bondsman, was very close to former Cowboys star Michael Irvin. He believes that Bryant’s taking a similar approach to Irvin in his offseason workouts, and that’s saying something.
As you may have heard, Irvin also had some issues away from the field. The Cowboys are hoping that Bryant’s issues are behind him.
Of course, the next four weeks will tell the story.