Bryant growing into a truly special player

Cowboys vs. Eagles

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Dez Bryant has long been known more for indiscretions and perceived character issues than on-field performance. But he's working hard to change that, and the past month is a strong indication he's made progress. Strong progress. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)



WFAA Sports Producer

Posted on December 3, 2012 at 4:07 AM

 What a difference a month makes.

Four weeks ago, Dez Bryant's sore hip made him a game-time decision against the Falcons on Sunday Night Football. Bryant ended up playing against the team whose primo wide receivers had scoffed at a comparison between them and the Cowboys' duo, Bryant and Miles Austin.
He came up with one catch on four targets. A fifteen-yard day. The usual cries were circulating -- when is Dez going to grow up and perform to his potential? When will he take football more seriously than he takes nightlife? (Bryant had celebrated his bithday the previous Friday night with the team's permission) Is Dez more trouble than he's worth?
Dez Bryant has played four games since then. He's caught 29 passes for 475 yards and six touchdowns. That's not just #1 WR stuff. It's #1 overall WR stuff.
The wide receiver who was becoming known more for indiscretions and drama than he was touchdowns has matured into a full-grown football monster. He's always approached defenses with an unafraid, almost derisive air -- 'I'm bigger and faster than you, and I know it.' But it usually ended up biting him because he would take on one tackler too manyand lose the ball, or gain more yards sprinting horizontally across the field than he did running north-south to the proper end zone. Dez is still unafraid. But the thing striking fear into the hearts of NFL's defensive coordinator is he seems to now be playing smart. He's playing the odds. And he's sticking to what works. 
He's getting a generous serving of deep balls that his size, speed, leaping ability and tremendous mitts leave him very well-equipped for. He's only getting screens or slants when he's got one man to beat, eliminating his temptation to invite 11 simultaneous tacklers.
His effectiveness has spiked in recent weeks (notably, in last night's game against Philadelphia, he caught all six balls thrown his way). And it's showing in the stat line. Dez now ranks tenth in the NFL with 978 receiving yards and is tied for fourth with eight touchdown catches. Both eclipse his total from last season, with four games still left to play.
Will teams adjust to Dez's new playbook? Will the Cowboys face stiffer pass defenses than they have over the past four weeks? Sure. But for now, if you draw one thing from the past month, let it be Dez Bryant's contrast from one Sunday night against the Falcons to another against the Eagles. And remember that for all he's experienced, Bryant is barely 24 years old. Skepticism is understandable, but in this case, I've arrived at a more happy conclusion.
Dez Bryant has grown. And he's not done yet.