FRISCO, Texas – When Dez Bryant broke his foot last September, Brice Butler became a Cowboy two days later in a trade with Oakland – an early-season move to maintain an outside downfield threat on offense.
Butler would appear in only seven games in that 2015 season due to a hamstring injury. A year later, Bryant is dealing with a new injury – a hairline fracture in his right knee that could sideline him Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
Once again, Butler could be in line for more snaps.
"I'm ready. That's all I've got to say," he said Wednesday when reporters told him the extent of Bryant's injury. "I can't speak for him. Hopefully he gets back quickly, but I'll hold it down for him while he's gone."
The Cowboys haven't ruled out Bryant for Week 4. It's a "day-to-day, week-to-week" injury, according to head coach Jason Garrett, and so far this week the star receiver hasn't practiced.
If he's unable to play, Butler – now a full year into the offensive system – could be in line to start. He has one catch for 16 yards in the first three games playing 36 percent of the snaps.
It wouldn't just be one player replacing the two-time Pro Bowler, though. Like last year, the offense would need a collective effort in the passing game from Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten and more.
"He's an elite wide receiver – one of the best in the NFL, if not the best," Witten said of Bryant. "His ability to make plays and create plays and draw coverage, all those things you look for.
"We feel like we have depth at the wide receiver position. Brice is in the second year in our system – has made some plays, has some big-play ability. You've just got to keep moving forward."
Williams moved into the No. 1 receiver role when Bryant was sidelined last year and posted career-bests in catches (52) and yards (840). If Bryant can't play, though, he said this time he can't focus on trying to replicate his production.
"I've got to just continue playing the game that I play and keep being the person that Coach Garrett and Coach Scott (Linehan) brought me here for," Williams said. "I can't say much, but I did learn from the experience that I did have last year. What I can tell you is it's going to be different from what you saw from me last year."
One clear improvement on offense this season is the running game – specifically, the touchdowns the Cowboys are getting on the ground. Their NFL-best seven rushing touchdowns are one shy of last year's season total, and their 32 rushing first downs also lead the league, setting an early pace for 170. Last year's total: 94.
All that means less pressure on Prescott to reach the end zone through the air. When he does pass, with or without Bryant in the game, he'll continue to follow his reads and look for the open receiver.
"That's kind of been the motto of this team to step up when somebody goes down," he said.