Bryant had already supplanted Crayton as the No. 3 receiver even before impressing throughout the first week of training camp. But the first-round draft pick is out four to six weeks with a high right ankle sprain, pushing Crayton back up the depth chart for now.
"I'm glad he's here," receivers coach Ray Sherman said after the first practice Saturday. "I tell you what, he is valuable."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones described Bryant as being "disappointed" and "bothered" that he will miss preseason games after getting hurt late in practice Friday.
Though the Cowboys have an extended camp with five preseason games, beginning with the Hall of Fame game next weekend, the injury could keep Bryant from playing until the regular season. The last preseason game is at home Sept. 2, which is less than five weeks away. The season opener is Sept. 12 at Washington.
"It's a very typical high ankle, but very stable," Jones said. "So it should, without any surgery, mend completely and be ready to go. He's a young guy and you'd bet that he'd be on the downside of it."
Just before the team's second practice started Saturday afternoon, Bryant was wearing a protective boot on his right foot when he momentarily came out of the tunnel onto the field. He waved to cheering fans on his way back out of sight.
After the Cowboys drafted Bryant 24th overall in April, Crayton was given permission to seek a trade and indicated that he wanted to be released from his contract that goes through next season. The seventh-year receiver skipped most voluntary offseason workouts but was at all mandatory workouts this summer and has worked hard as always during camp.
"He's got a contract, and that's been my stance from the very beginning," Jones responded, when asked if Bryant's injury guarantees Crayton a spot on the 53-man roster.
"People have got to understand the value. He's not a flashy type player. He's a guy who goes about it in a workmanlike fashion and just goes about and does his job," Sherman said. "He just took care of his business and got himself in great shape. He didn't worry about what's being said or this or that. That's what you've got to do.
"It's a business. Sometimes things happen. He's still here, and I'm glad he's here."
Crayton had declared himself a $2 million "insurance policy" — his salary for 2010 — after the Cowboys didn't trade or release him.
"At least give me a name brand," Crayton said Friday, even before the severity of Bryant's injury was known. "Injuries come with the game. You never know what is going to happen."
Bryant got hurt on the next-to-last play of practice Friday, when he became entangled with cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Both players fell to the ground going for a pass from Jon Kitna that was thrown behind the receiver. Once Bryant gingerly got to his feet, he took only one step before sitting back down, grimacing in obvious pain and grabbing his ankle.
Now, Bryant will miss valuable time on the field learning the offense and working with Romo like he had in 10 practice sessions the first seven days of camp. He might not practice again until the Cowboys get back to Valley Ranch in late August, after two weeks in California.
"Hopefully he could come back sooner, but that's a long time to be out," Sherman said. "Hopefully through film study, meetings and those types of things, he can still have an idea, be on top of what he has to do. The only thing is physically not being able to go out and do it."
Jones said Bryant can keep up mentally even while out rehabilitating his ankle, and has a basis on which to learn because of the time he has already had on the field.
"What he needs to do is just take advantage of the week that he had," Jones said. "Keep up with the mental part of it, he will be ready to go when time comes for him to be out there."
Soon after Bryant was hurt, Jones made some initial comments to ESPN's Chris Mortensen questioning whether the rookie was being pushed too hard and the timing of the injury since it came at the end of practice when everyone was tired.
Jones insisted Saturday that he wasn't being critical.
"What I'm being is analytical, or trying to be analytical," Jones said. "This is when you all sit down and look at everything you're doing and see if there's some things you can do to help protect your team better, especially during this time five to six weeks from the opening game."
Sherman described Bryant's injury as a "one of those freak things." Coach Wade Phillips said Scandrick was making a play on the ball, like the coach would expect.