Dallas confident in the route Bryant will take
No one squabbles about Dez Bryant’s talent. That’s where he’s special.
Personnel officials from three teams reached by the Globe agreed. Strip down the issues, look at Bryant as a football player, and you have as good a receiver as Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy is a defensive tackle, or Eric Berry is a safety, or Sam Bradford is a quarterback.
The difference is similarly easy to see. The other four “clean’’ prospects went in the draft’s first five picks. Meanwhile, 23 teams (all trades taken into account) came on the clock with Bryant available and took someone else. It took a 24th for the Oklahoma State star to come off the board.
So now he’s a Cowboy. Whether Bryant will make two-thirds of the league regret that they bypassed him — the way so many kicked themselves for passing on Randy Moss in 1998 — is up for debate.
“He should’ve been top 10, maybe top five, and by the grace of God, we were able to get him,’’ said jubilant Cowboys receivers coach Ray Sherman. “I’m not going to complain. That’s a blessing from above.’’
But so many NFL decision-makers feared the curse.
Bryant’s story is well-documented. He was born to a teenage mother who was in jail by the time he was 8. He had an itinerant childhood, never truly having a place to call home. After fighting through that to emerge as a star in college, Bryant lied to NCAA investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders, which got him suspended for the final nine games of his junior season.
That’s it. No drugs. No DUIs. No arrests.
“One thing it always came back to, you hear about all these issues, and it’s, ‘Yeah, but he really is a good kid,’ ’’ said a veteran scout assigned to the Big 12, who added that the Dallas offense will be “absolutely terrifying’’ if Bryant pans out.
“They’d always tell me nine, 10 different things that went wrong, but then it was, ‘Yeah, we really like him, he’s a good kid,’ ’’ he continued. “I’m convinced that he does have it in him. But good kids need to grow up, and this one needs to grow up more than most.’’
He had trouble getting to practices and workouts on time, though he did bust his tail when he got there. Toward the end at Oklahoma State, he had a large group of hangers-on. Scouts worried he’s too easily swayed by those around him, and could be ruined by money.
And here’s the other issue: His landing spot. Dallas is within an afternoon’s drive of his hometown (Lufkin, Texas) and his college town (Stillwater, Okla.). Also, the Cowboys aren’t exactly camera-shy, and they’ve already played this one big — draping the No. 88 worn by Michael Irvin and Drew Pearson on their new attraction.
“They’re going to put too much pressure on him,’’ another scout surmised. “He’s going to be expected to be the savior, better than Irvin, all those things. If he went to another team, he’d have a better chance to develop.
“Being from Lufkin, with Deion there in Prosper [a Dallas suburb], their advisers are around there, it’s a comfortable environment. He’s in that comfort zone he got in trouble in to begin with. He’d be better off being away from that.’’
One Cowboys official countered by saying, “No one’s putting more pressure on him than he is. It’s his dream to be a Cowboy. It’s so important to him. I promise you, he’ll fit in.’’
And so, taking all that into account, how did Dallas come to a comfort level so many other teams couldn’t? Outside of clearing him medically (a heart condition was the final straw for some to remove him from consideration), the Cowboys met with him. Extensively.
Again, the talent was obvious.
Some receivers are quick-twitch, others are long-strider speed demons, and Bryant is the rare athlete who is both. He returned punts at Oklahoma State, at 6 feet 2 inches and 225 pounds, the way a scat back would. He attacks the ball, catches it with his hands, and plays a smart game.
But what really showed Sherman what he needed to see was having Bryant in the film room. Bryant called out plays. He called out formations. He explained what his responsibility would be on the board. And, in turn, Sherman formed an idea of how Bryant would be coached.
Then, he delved into finding out more about the person, who came off as a polite yes sir/no sir type.
“I talked to a couple people who are close to him, who know him, and neither one had talked to the other,’’ Sherman said. “They gave me information that was exactly the same, or close to it, and that’s that he’s a special kid. That told me the kid’s going to be OK.
“If there was a discrepancy, I might say, ‘Don’t touch the guy.’ But there was nothing but positive, and these are people I trust.’’
So Sherman started to see things differently. He began wondering why the rumors about Bryant didn’t kick in until after he’d be suspended. He viewed Bryant’s upbringing no longer as a hindrance to his progress, but an example of his resolve to get past it.
The start of the next step was a little messy. Bryant was bent over and gassed at several points in his first practice Friday.
Laughing, the rookie said, “I know exactly what you mean now,’’ referencing Sherman’s message on being in football shape. “But I’ll be ready. I’ll be in shape.’’
And a receivers coach who knows says, “He’s gonna be special.’’
His ability to be that is undeniable. Whether he gets there or not will, at the very least, be a fascinating story to watch.
Pieces put in place before Rams took QBThe Rams’ selection of Sam Bradford may have taken place 10 days ago, and the decision may have come weeks earlier, but the truth is the stage was set for St. Louis to commit to a franchise quarterback in April 2009.
That’s when the Rams took, with the second pick in the draft, Baylor tackle Jason Smith to become the bodyguard for whomever would wind up slinging it long-term for the team.
“Whether it was Jason or one of the other linemen, we wanted to do that first,’’ general manager Billy Devaney said. “We made the decision last year, even with some quality quarterbacks available, that the prudent thing to do was get our offensive line together as much as possible.
“That’s why we signed [center] Jason Brown, that’s why we drafted Jason Smith. That was kind of our thought process, that if we add offensive line talent first, and that quarterback was available [in 2010], that would make it an easy pick.’’
Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff employed a similar, albeit accelerated, strategy in 2008 with Matt Ryan, adding tailback Michael Turner to take the pressure off the young QB, kicker Jason Elam to be a points-producer when drives stalled, and left tackle Sam Baker as a blind-side protector.
The key in both cases was creating a palatable environment in which a quarterback could grow.
“I go back and look at when Ben Roethlisberger came in,’’ Devaney said. “It’s never easy, but for him to be able to turn and hand the ball to the Bus [Jerome Bettis] was huge. And they played great defense, so the quarterback didn’t have to throw the ball 30 times to win.’’
Having Steven Jackson in the backfield will help Bradford, too.
The Rams were ready to make the leap after Bradford’s Pro Day, when he showed almost no fatigue as he ripped through a 100-throw workout, allaying any fears the team had about his shoulder.
“I think he’s got a tremendous ceiling, and wherever that ceiling is, he’ll achieve it, because he’ll work his butt off to get there,’’ Devaney said.
Keep things covered in making transitionFor all the hype about college edge rushers converting from 4-3 end to 3-4 outside linebacker, almost all of the premier prospects among these types went to 4-3 teams. Koa Misi, taken by the Dolphins at 40th overall, was the first edge-rusher type to be drafted by a club employing a base 3-4 front.
But don’t take that as a sign that teams are scared off by the projection. Players might be hesitant at first, but eventually guys like Misi and even the Patriots’ Jermaine Cunningham will settle in.
“Coming out of college, I preferred to keep my hand in the dirt,’’ said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, a banshee of a defensive end at Arizona State. “That’s what I was most comfortable with. I’d been successful with that. But fortunately for me, I was drafted to play in the 3-4, and that forced me to sharpen my skills, and made me better.’’
Suggs is one of the success stories, having posted 12 sacks his rookie year and making the first of his three Pro Bowls in Year 2.
But it wasn’t always easy. While Suggs rushed more often than not on passing downs, Baltimore did leave him in coverage some, and unless it was a slow-footed fullback out there, it wasn’t all that comfortable.
“I became the go-to guy: Whoever I was covering, the quarterback made sure to throw to,’’ said Suggs. “You could hear it: ‘Check, check 55!’ It definitely took me at least a year. Some guys learn faster.’’
His advice for guys like Misi and Cunningham?
“One is do the little things,’’ Suggs said. “You have to get your footwork right, when you have time, because that’s new to you and those are things you haven’t done, dropping in coverage. And No. 2, get in your playbook. Know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and you won’t be second-guessing.’’
Remember, this is a guy who at one point questioned the idea of playing the hybrid role. Now, he has a six-year, $63 million contract that says it worked out.
“It makes you a more dangerous player,’’ said Suggs. “Teams can’t key on you.’’
Albert R. Breer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.