Published November 20, 2014
Dez Bryant was more than on time for the start of the Dallas Cowboys training camp. The first-round pick was the first player on the field Saturday.
"I'm just ready to play, that's the message," Bryant said. "I'm ready to do whatever they ask me to do. I'm here to work hard, I'm here to give 100 percent, just bring my A-game."
Wearing the No. 88 jersey assigned to him right after being drafted, Bryant emerged from the Alamodome tunnel about 45 minutes before the Cowboys' first workout. The receiver from Oklahoma State then caught passes from an undrafted rookie quarterback.
Bryant had alleviated any concern about him missing any workouts when he agreed to terms of a five-year contract even before getting to San Antonio. He signed it after he arrived for the NFL's longest full-squad camp this year.
"I'm going to use the phrase, not on time, before time," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Friday while commending Bryant and his agent, Eugene Parker, for getting the deal done. "They both knew that this thing was important to set a tone, set an impression. ... Boy, that's a good sign."
Another impressive cue came Saturday.
Bryant arrived at the Alamodome more than two hours before practice. Once on the field, he acknowledged the growing crowd with a wave and then ran a variety of routes long before Tony Romo and the rest of the team even came out of the locker room.
"I did do it on purpose, to show the fans I'm ready to play," Bryant said.
He was also one of the last players to leave after the two-hour practice. He talked to several waves of reporters and signed autographs, even obliging one man's request to sign the back of an outfit being worn by a 9-month-old boy before posing for a picture holding the baby.
Dallas is the first team to have its full squad on the field, and no other teams are scheduled to have that until Wednesday. The Cowboys play their preseason opener in two weeks as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend that will include NFL career rushing leader and three-time Super Bowl champion Emmitt Smith's induction.
Once the opening workout without pads started, Bryant made several acrobatic and one-handed catches in drills without defenders. On one sideline route, he reached back with his left hand to make the grab, then managed to stay inbounds.
"Dez is a good football player and I think he's showing people that," Romo said.
The Cowboys traded up three spots in April to get Bryant 24th overall after the talented receiver slipped in the draft amid questions about his character. But Dallas did its homework after he was limited to only three games last season because of his NCAA suspension for lying to investigators about a meeting with former Cowboys star Deion Sanders.
"We felt very comfortable with Dez as a person, we obviously loved him as a player," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "He's a good young man, he goes about it the right way. Watch him practice. He's 100 mph every minute of every day. He's learning, he's trying to understand what we're asking him to do and he gets better and better."
There were some concerns when Bryant picked the same agent as his buddy and fellow receiver Michael Crabtree, a first-rounder whose holdout last season lasted into late October. The signing of draft picks was also complicated by NFL labor uncertainty.
But Bryant agreed Thursday to the deal that guarantees him at least $8.3 million. His base salary this season is $320,000, but he got a $1.95 million signing bonus and gets another $570,000 roster bonus during camp.
"Me and my agent and Mr. Jones just wanted to get that contract out of the way so I can get on the field," Bryant said. "Now all I have to do is get ready for the season."
All six of the Cowboys draft picks were signed before camp. The only one not practicing is safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, the fourth-round pick still recovering from left shoulder surgery in March.
Owusu-Ansah and Stephen Hodge, a 2009 draft pick recovering from microfracture surgery, are both on the physically unable to perform list.
Third-year tight end Martellus Bennett missed the opening workout because of a non-football ankle injury. Coach Wade Phillips expects him to be out only a couple of days.
Bryant, with that cherished No. 88 jersey previously worn by Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin and Drew Pearson, ran plays primarily with the second-team offense Saturday. The Cowboys also plan for him to return kicks.
"That bridge was crossed when we drafted Dez, and will be crossed as this season unfolds," said Jones, who believes there will be a role and plenty of balls for all of the receivers.
"Controversy is what everybody loves, try to pin him against me, me against him, and it's not going to work," said Williams, who compared to the situation to the 2011 truck he just bought and the 2004 he also still has. "Everybody loves a new car. ... That 2004 still runs good."