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Dez Bryant getting comfortable

His father was gravely ill. He's got a 14-year-old niece that has diabetes. Of course, there's the creditors, the biggest one a jeweler/ticket broker who commands nearly $600,000.

And oh yeah, Dez Bryant has to master the playbook and become a vital member of the Dallas Cowboys' offense.

Life isn't easy for anybody in these troubling economic times, but Bryant, the fun-loving and somewhat troubled wide receiver for the Cowboys, is still smiling.

He was joking around in the locker room following Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers, happy the first-team offense got a touchdown but mindful of the road ahead.

It's baby steps for Bryant as he enters his second season with the Cowboys. There are no whispers about being late to meetings or not knowing the playbook and fighting with mentors.

Deion Sanders is out of the picture, leaving David Wells, a bail bondsman by trade, to handle Bryant's affairs. Wells still gets calls from the Cowboys about Bryant, but not as often as last year when the receiver was trying to balance a checkbook.

Now, Bryant is trying to balance the playbook and bond with receivers coach Jimmy Robinson and quarterback Tony Romo.

"I feel like the coaches have done a great job of teaching me the playbook, especially Miles [Austin] and especially Tony and the older guys," Bryant said. "Me knowing the playbook, it just feels great and my confidence level is high and I'm bringing that, and with what I know, I'm putting it together."

You sometimes wonder if Bryant really knows the playbook. During a recent practice at Cowboys Stadium, Bryant ran an underneath route toward the goal line while Austin ran a crossing route into the end zone. Romo's pass floated into the corner of the end zone and was caught by the air.

There was a look of puzzlement on everyone's faces. Bryant confidently strolled back to the clog of players behind the line. It was Austin who reacted with the wrong route.

"I don't have to stress," Bryant said. "I don't have to guess about this route and that route. I know. Tony trusts me and he wants me to do good, and he stays on me. He wants me to make sure I got everything down. Tony wants me to do good."

This is not to say Austin doesn't know what he's doing. He does. Austin talks to Bryant about becoming a student of the game, which it seems Bryant has become.

Now every NFL team is worried about Bryant's ability to make plays on the field in 2011.

Yet, sometimes, these off-the-field issues merge into his NFL life.

Bryant was temporarily banned from a high-end mall, was sued for owing thousands of dollars in jewelry and lost his Under Armour endorsement deal.

His dad was rushed to the hospital for an undisclosed illness, and Bryant, who is forming a relationship with him, comforted him. The niece is battling through health issues, too, and Bryant is trying to be a big brother.

"He's doing better," Bryant said of his father. "My niece, she's still going through some things. We're going to pray, and I know everything is going to work out."

Bryant has two endorsement deals now to make people forget about what went wrong with Under Armour and some of those creditors.

"It's humbling," he said of the endorsement deals, one for playing gloves and another for energy wrist bands. "It makes me feel good. If Nike wants to do a deal, whoever, there are several companies out there that want to do stuff. It feels great they want me to advertise their products."

Of the creditors, Bryant said, "That's not on my mind. I know it's going to be taken care of. Why stress over something that's going to be taken care of?"

It's still a work in progress for Bryant. He's not there yet, but then you see him catching a short pass near the line of scrimmage against the Chargers and he's fighting for every yard as if the world is depending on this one play.

That's what you love about Bryant: his passion for the game.

Now if he can get the other stuff together.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.