FRISCO, Texas -- If you believe the chemistry on display between Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Dez Bryant against the Indianapolis Colts this past weekend is something new, then you were not paying attention to the second half of last season.
Once healthy from a tibial plateau fracture in his right leg that forced him to miss three games, Bryant caught 43 passes for 646 yards and eight touchdowns in the final nine games, including the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. That includes the regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles in which Prescott played 15 snaps and Bryant played 18 and did not have a catch.
Project those numbers over a 16-game season and Bryant would have been on pace for 76 catches for 1,148 yards and 14 touchdowns.
While that production would fall short of the 91 catches, 1,311 yards and 14 touchdowns per season he averaged from 2012 to 2014, those types of numbers from Bryant would still help if running back Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension is upheld.
“They’ve played a lot of football together in a short period of time,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They continue to grow. I think they have a very good relationship on the field, and they have a very good relationship off the field, and their communication is really good. I think it reflects in the execution.”
Almost from the moment the Cowboys drafted Bryant in the first round in 2010, he and Tony Romo had a chemistry that was as good as any quarterback-wide receiver combination in the NFL. They combined on 349 passes for 5,017 yards, and Bryant’s 50 touchdown catches were the most Romo had to any one target.
Growing up a Cowboys fan, Prescott knew from afar to trust Bryant once he got on the field.
“Dez is a guy that you just give a chance to in one-on-one,” Prescott said. “Film study helps, but more importantly the reps we’ve had in practice all came along and are more valuable to help us.”
In Saturday's preseason game against the Colts, they were ready to continue to display the chemistry they had as last season went along.
Prescott’s first pass of the game went to Bryant for a 23-yard completion on a slant that saw the receiver shrug off one defender. The drive ended with Prescott hitting Bryant on a double-move touchdown from 32 yards.
Prescott called it an extension of what they had done in Oxnard, California, during training camp.
“They’ve just built on that,” tight end Jason Witten said. “That’s one thing Dak’s done a really good job of in the offseason, working on that and having Dez there and being available. And Dez is committed to the work he’s putting in right now, and I think that’s paid off well for us to see those two. Dez is a physical freak, but to see him work his route-running and get it so precise and him and Dak to have that chemistry that they’ve put together, it’s rewarding to see it pay off and hopefully continue to build going into Week 1.”
Bryant’s statistics in 2015 and '16 fell off because of injury. He missed seven games two seasons ago because of a foot injury that required two surgeries. He missed three games last season. In his past 22 games, he has 81 catches for 1,197 yards and 11 touchdowns.
For the first time since 2014, when he led the NFL in touchdown catches with 16, Bryant took part in a full offseason program. He was held out of four training camp practices along with Witten, linebacker Sean Lee, cornerback Orlando Scandrick and some other veterans, but Bryant had one practice last week in which he caught six of Prescott’s 13 passes in team and seven-on-seven drills.
“To me, Dez is the best he has ever been,” Prescott said. “Someone asked me the other day who is the most improved player and I said Dez. Just the way he is taking care of his body, his effort and attitude. It is just exciting to throw him the ball and watch what he can do this year.”