Dez Bryant has work to do as leg heals

IRVING, Texas -- The end of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant's rookie season came the same way it started: with him needing help.

Bryant needed assistance from two team trainers to walk off the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon.

When Bryant left the stadium later that day, he needed crutches to get to the team bus. He asked for two hamburgers as he made his trek while television cameras followed his every move.

On the field, Bryant was an explosive force until suffering a broken right fibula on a kickoff return. When his season prematurely ended, he led the Cowboys with six touchdown receptions and eight overall. He was third in receiving yards (561) and probably first in attention.

Before some plays, Bryant needed help in the huddle from his teammates regarding what he was supposed to do. There were times he was just running around out there, free to roam the field.

"A guy like Dez, he's a naturally talented guy," cornerback Mike Jenkins said. "He doesn't know what type of caliber guy he is. He's playing street ball, and once he figures the game out, he will expand his talent."

This is not how Cowboys interim coach Jason Garrett wants Bryant to play in the future. Regardless of who the coach is in 2011, Bryant's maturity level will be a focus of concern for the organization.

Everyone loves Bryant's passion for the game. Everyone loves his talent. Wide receivers coach Ray Sherman calls him a freak.

But turning that freak talent into a polished receiver probably will take a little longer with Bryant out for three to four months after having surgery Monday to stabilize the broken bone.

Bryant can use this time away from the game to heal his body and sharpen his mind.

"He's made huge plays in a bunch of games for us," receiver Miles Austin said. "He can use this time to improve in other facets of his game because he has the physical assets of his game down."

Mastering the playbook and recognizing coverages can be a frustrating task for any player. It was even harder for Bryant because he missed the bulk of training camp with a high ankle sprain, and lost practice time during the season nursing ankle, tailbone, back and rib injuries.

While his long-term health is an issue, Bryant also must worry about mastering the playbook. It's imperative he understands it so the next offensive coordinator can best utilize his skills. Bryant is a fast receiver with good hands and the ability to physically punish cornerbacks. He's not easy to bring down, and if it takes two defenders, it's a fight.

Bryant is excellent at getting space from defenders and going to get the football. He is good on a handful of routes from the slant, go, post and the screen.

Getting Bryant refined is not something that will happen overnight, but with a full offseason of watching film and studying the playbook, he can get better.

What probably hurts Bryant more than the injury is being unable to play. In 2009, he played only three games of his junior season at Oklahoma State before missing a game because of injury and then serving a suspension for lying to NCAA investigators.

"He loves football," cornerback Terence Newman said. "It's a blow [to lose him]. I love talking to the guy. That dude truly loves football. It know it was killing him inside when he missed that junior year. If it's anything he can do in this world, it would be to play with his loved ones and playing football."

Bryant declined to comment after Sunday's overtime win against the Colts. When he does speak, you can hear the passion for the game in his voice. He's always playing football and thinking about football. Now that he's away from the game, he must deal not only with missing the field, but making sure that when he hears a play called, he knows what to do.

"The impact that he made in such a short period of time has been significant," Garrett said. "There's no question about that. You always want those guys to play more because they grow so much with each and every opportunity that they get. He just benefits so much from reps in practice and in games. He just continues to grow."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.