OXNARD, Calif. -- After catching a pass across the middle Sunday afternoon, Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant got lit up by second-year safety J.J. Wilcox and loved every bit of it.
OK, so maybe that wasn’t Bryant’s immediate reaction. After getting off his butt, Bryant made a beeline toward Wilcox and met him with a headbutt. Wilcox responded with a right hook to Bryant’s helmet and the first real fight of Dallas Cowboys training camp was underway.
“I wanted him,” Bryant said. “He pissed me off. But you know, man, it was in the heat of the moment. When things got calmed down, I told him I loved it. Keep it coming.”
Bryant knows this defense better show some bite for the Cowboys to have a prayer of doing playoff damage. That’s part of the reason Bryant has been barking at the defense so much during camp, consistently talking trash after he makes big plays, such as his 80-yard score on a slant or short touchdown catch on a back-shoulder fade Sunday.
Bryant wants to bring the best out of a defense that ranked as the league’s worst last season. He’s trying to provoke the type of passion Wilcox displayed.
If it causes Bryant a bit of pain -- and the big hit hurt worse than the right hook, thanks to his helmet -- so be it.
“It’s just a chip on our shoulder,” said Wilcox, who has the potential to be an intimidating presence in the secondary. “We’ve been 32nd for the last year. It’s time to step up.”
Wilcox’s initial shot at Bryant, when the safety’s helmet struck hard right between the 8s on the receiver’s jersey, broke one of the cardinal rules of Cowboys camp.
In order to help avoid injuries, players are supposed to stay off the ground. That’s especially true for star players.
So slamming a guy who has caught as many touchdown passes over the last two seasons as anyone in the NFL is definitely a no-no.
Wilcox, who described himself as "brothers" with Bryant, admitted that he was a bit worried about head coach Jason Garrett’s reaction. Sounds like it won’t be too harsh, though.
Like Bryant, Garrett loved the fact that Wilcox showed a willingness to fight, figuratively speaking. The literal fight was less than ideal.
“You’re treading a line there, but it’s a competitive situation for a reason,” Garrett said. “J.J. has done a really nice job through the first part of training camp running to the ball. I think he’s improved dramatically, both at the back end and also his decisiveness coming up in the running game. I thought that was evidence of kind of where he is.
“You know, it’s never good to have players go to the ground -- that’s not what we want. But it is good to have them compete, and those two guys are some of the best competitors we have on our team.”
All had been forgiven between Bryant and Wilcox a few plays after the fact. After Bryant celebrated catching that touchdown on the back-shoulder fade, he found Wilcox, exchanged low fives and encouraged the young safety to keep fighting.
Bryant hopes that big hit and the fight that followed are moments that the rest of the team feeds off of for the remainder of camp.
“I love it,” Bryant said. “I love every bit of it. The reason why I love it is because that’s what we need. ... You know I love it. We’re just going to tone it down a little bit, get it under control, but at the end of the day, we need that out of J.J. We need that out of some more guys on the team.
“That’s the only way that we’re going to get better. That’s the only way that we’ll have a shot at being a true power team in this league.”