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Entering His 8th Season, Dez Bryant Has Grown Into A Leader By Example

FRISCO, Texas – Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato attended the Cowboys' practice Wednesday as a guest. The driver's presence prompted Dez Bryant to consider the fastest he's ever driven a car, which he estimated to be a blazing 180 miles per hour.

He was just as quick to insist that those days are behind him. 

"When I first got my license I got suspended for a year for going a little too fast," Bryant said with a smile. "I don't do it anymore."

The lesson, besides that Bryant is leaving those speeds to professionals like Sato, is the Pro Bowl receiver has matured in his time as a Cowboy. He also claimed that he spends less time going out and socializing late at night than he might have when he was younger. 

"I think [those are] things that naturally happen over time," Bryant said. "You start putting things in perspective. I know for me, all I want to do is get better."

Don't look now, but the same Dez Bryant who many have said for years, fairly or unfairly, needs to grow up is an eight-year veteran, and only four Cowboys (Jason Witten, Orlando Scandrick, Sean Lee, and L.P. Ladouceur) have been on the team as long as he has.

When asked if he had done anything to adapt a bigger leadership role in the wake of Tony Romo's departure, Bryant emphatically denied it as if it were an accusation. 

"No, I'm me," Bryant said. "I'm going to keep being me. I'm not going to do anything outside of what Dez does."

So while Bryant is the type of person who might scoff at the notion that he's changed since he entered the NFL, it's hard not to think that he's grown as a person, just like many people do in their 20s. He also said Wednesday that he had learned a lot from Witten just by being around him and watching him every day. 

He then went on to praise Dak Prescott's ability to take the title of team leader.

"I think the coolest thing about him, what I love about him because I think I had that same trait, he knows the only way to grow is to listen," Bryant said of Prescott. "He watches a lot of guys who do it right and he'll apply it to himself."

But much like Bryant learned from watching Witten every day, young players such as Prescott are likely learning from watching Bryant, who has played through numerous injuries over the years.

His on-field personality, which was once labeled a distraction, now sets a standard for expected intensity. It's a wakeup call for the Cowboys' rookie cornerbacks who have to face off against him in practice. Bryant says they're answering that call. 

"I like them," Bryant said. "They have attitude, and that's what I'm all about. Don't get in front of me being all scared. I'll expose it. They're ready for battle. That's what you need because this is the NFL. This is no longer college. If you're food you're going to [get eaten]."

Bryant might not have asked to be a leader. He might defer the title and praise, but that doesn't mean he hasn't gotten used to the attributes that make players follow him. 

"I want to lead by example," Bryant said. "I don't want to run my mouth. I want to go hard each and every play. If it's not a pass I want to go hard in that run game as if I were getting the ball in a pass play."

The change of perspective can be attributable to something that affects any competitor: near success. 

"[We] Just keep being close," Bryant said. "Close. Close. Close. How can that not motivate you?"

The other motive might just be excitement. Bryant said Wednesday that this is the best team that he's ever been a part of. He's fully healthy this offseason and isn't shy about what that can mean. 

"I know when I'm 100 [percent] I'm something hard to deal with," Bryant said. "That confidence is steady expanding. I'm going to keep going. I've never been this ready for training camp. I'm excited for training camp. I'm ready to leave. I'm ready to get back. I'm ready for the season to start."

People often thought that if Bryant could channel his intensity in a more productive manner then he would become an invaluable weapon. Eight years in, we might have reached that point.

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