IRVING, Texas –
Whether it’s on the field or off, at home or in the spotlight, he’s finally content. It’s not difficult to see he’s grown as a person and a player, and he knows that.
“I’d say I found myself,” Bryant said. “I’m comfortable with my life and I’m enjoying being in the NFL. Wish it could have been a couple of years back, but I had to go through a couple of things to figure it out. I got it, and I’m just more focused on my job and doing what I love to do, and that’s just play football.”
Off the field worries held teams back from grabbing the talented receiver from Oklahoma State, who remained on the board through 23 picks in 2010 before the Cowboys selected him at No. 24 overall.
The personal struggles popped up off and on throughout the early portion of his professional career. But after his domestic violence charges were conditionally dismissed during the season last year, something seemed to clicked for the receiver. That’s not to say his play and his legal circumstances are entirely correlated, but it’s not completely coincidental, either.
Bryant, who broke out with career-highs in catches (92), receiving yards (1,382) and touchdowns (12) last season, knows how he changed his life for the better.
“Listening and looking at people who do it right,” he said. “When I was younger, it wasn’t like I was acquainted with all of that stuff. I wasn’t used to it. I had to get around the people who do it right, and I feel like that’s been my stepping stone, these older guys.”
Everything was quiet for Bryant this offseason, and that’s a positive for him and the team. Maybe getting the right “makeup” of players, as head coach Jason Garrett would refer to it, is beginning to take effect.
Garrett remembers the player the Cowboys selected three years ago and how far Bryant has come since then.
“There were a lot of question marks about him coming out of school, and we got our arms around what those concerns were and we drafted him and were excited to do that. He’s really developed in so many different ways since he’s been here over the course of three years,” Garrett said. "He’s certainly improved greatly as a player.”
Bryant hauled in 45 catches for 561 yards and six touchdowns his rookie season. Garrett said he knew Bryant wasn’t close to being the player he was capable of becoming at that time. A year later, Bryant caught 63 passes for 928 yards and nine touchdowns. He bettered all those statistics in 2012.
“He had an impact, he was catching a lot of balls, he was scoring touchdowns,” Garrett said. “I think his biggest strides came last year.”
That’s not to say it happened without faults. Bryant and quarterback
But after every miscommunication, he could be seen chatting with Romo to figure out what went wrong. Bryant turned into an unstoppable force on the outside midway through the season, recording back-to-back games with exactly 145 receiving yards. He was an elite receiver the remainder of the year.
“I think a lot of that coincides with his development as a person,” Garrett said. “You’ve got to remember, a lot of these guys that we draft, they’re young guys when they get here, and picture yourself as a 21-year-old coming into this environment with all the hype and the circumstance around being a No. 1 draft pick in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys. He had to work through that like a lot of guys have to work through it, and he has to mature and understand what’s important. I think he’s done all of that.”
Garrett describes Bryant as a joy to coach. The receiver wants to get better, asks questions and listens to the players and coaches around him to help him do that. Bryant said football is the only thing on his mind, and Garrett can see that.
“He has such passion for the game,” Garrett said. “He loves it. He loves his teammates, he loves to play, and then he has gotten some of these other things in his life kind of organized and together, and it reflects in his play. We’ve seen growth as a player, we’ve seen growth as a person and we love seeing him every day because he’s getting better before our eyes.”
But Bryant’s journey hasn’t ended. After his first 1,000-yard season, he’s working on getting completely healthy and in the best shape of his life. He’s still getting treatment on his back, which he hurt against the Redskins at the end of the year, but he said that injury and his surgically repaired finger won’t be issues this season.
He’s participating in Organized Team Activities and training himself to be able “to run all day.”
“I hear coach talk about it all the time, and that’s one of my main goals,” Bryant said. “Staying on the Stairmaster, trying to increase my endurance as much as I can, just not thinking about tapping out, just being able to go every play 100 miles per hour.”
Bryant looks comfortable in a way that he has never seemed to before. He may not care about his persona all the time, but the more he seems at ease off the field, the more he seems to dominate on it.
“I don’t really worry too much about if I’m comfortable or not,” Bryant said. “I’m all in. I’m focusing on other things. That’s just being right and helping out the younger guys.”