Can Dez Bryant reach 1,500 receiving yards?
Next step in Dez's growth: Statistics
Is there any reason to believe that Dez Bryant has regressed since breaking out in the second half of last season?
Not at all.
Bryant was the most dominant player on the practice fields during training camp before some minor hip soreness sidelined him the past few days. The list of receivers who are more physically gifted than Bryant might be one name long, and Bryant has made tremendous strides mentally and from a maturation standpoint since the end of last season.
It doesn't take a math degree to double Bryant's numbers from the last eight games of 2012 -- 50 catches for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns -- and figure out that it projects to a heck of a lot more than 1,500 yards for a full season.
The Cowboys believe Bryant has gotten much better since the end of last season and still has a lot of room to grow. He's never been more comfortable and confident. After three full seasons in the offense, Bryant knows where he's supposed to be and how he's supposed to get there, earning the trust of Tony Romo.
Coach Jason Garrett warns the media, which has the Dez Hype Machine in overdrive, that the receiver's improvement might not necessarily be reflected in his numbers this season.
The Cowboys hope they don't have to pass the ball so often. They would much rather not fall behind as much as they did last season and run the ball much better.
But let's be real. If Romo and Bryant stay healthy, there is no reason No. 88 shouldn't roar past 1,500 yards to the first of many Pro Bowl appearances in his career.
Take it from another No. 88 who happens to be the only receiver in franchise history to record a 1,500-yard season (and played on an offense with a pretty potent rushing attack, by the way).
Forget 1,500. Michael Irvin believes Bryant can go for two grand.
"He's so physically gifted it's incredible," Irvin said. "He can absolutely do that.
"He's learning how to do more little things now. That means that, 'I know I can run by you any time I want to, but let me make sure I spend time running this in route, that out route to set you up later to run by you.' That's the difference between 1,500 yards -- or 1,382 yards -- and 2,000 yards. It's the difference, and it's not a difference that's really shoulders down. It's a difference that's shoulders up. It's your thinking, not your physical gift.
"He has it physically. When he put it all together with what he does mentally, then he becomes an explosive player, because a lot of the little plays with his ability can always be big plays."
Defenses will clamp down on Dez
Dez Bryant is the best player on the Cowboys.
DeMarcus Ware comes closest, and the only reason he's No. 2 is because he's getting older.
The Cowboys' best offensive option finished 2012 with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.
His season was amazing. He finished with 224 yards against the Saints. He had 145 receiving yards in back-to-back games against the Browns and the Redskins. He hit the century mark five times last season.
Can Bryant do it again?
Bryant will get at least 1,000 receiving yards, but he won't reach the threshold we're talking about here. The top three single-season receiving marks in team history belong to Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin. The club record for a single season is 1,603 yards, set in 1995.
Bryant won't get to this.
There were three games in 2012 where Bryant was held to fewer than 20 yards. Defenses will clamp down on Bryant more than ever this season, opening the door for Miles Austin, Jason Witten and the running backs to get more receptions, taking yardage away from Dez.
Bryant is an emerging talent, and the Cowboys believe he has the skill set to become one of the best receivers in the NFL. But the way this upcoming season is shaping up, the numbers Bryant expects to achieve won't be there.
New playcaller Bill Callahan will run more often with DeMarco Murray. The early stages of training camp have shown Callahan he has three talented backs behind Murray to use in case he goes down with an injury. There's also an expectation the Cowboys will use Witten more in the red zone, something that doesn't happen enough.
We didn't trust Jason Garrett's ability to make adjustments last year to get Bryant the ball when defenses locked him down. Should we trust Callahan to do it running Garrett's timing-based offense this year?
Bryant will get his catches. He's too good not to make it happen. But forget about big yardage numbers. Defenses will slow Bryant down, and the impact of the running game will take away opportunities as well.
And don't forget that Tony Romo is coming off a season where he threw 19 interceptions, tied for the league lead.
There's too much going against Bryant right now.
It's not his fault. He deserves better.
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