Michael Irvin has advice for Dez Bryant

IRVING, Texas -- Michael Irvin feels a connection to Dez Bryant in a lot of ways, but mostly because they share the same position, the No. 88 jersey and were first-round picks by the Dallas Cowboys.

So when Irvin speaks, you know he cares. And you listen.

"Dez has to understand the importance he is to the rest of the team," the Hall of Fame wide receiver said. "Dez is tough. He works hard. All of those things are real. Right now what Dez has to understand is this: 'I am a primary right now. They've been waiting. I have to step up right now and assume this role.' And you've got to put in the extra time, the studying and make sure whatever issues I'm having I've got to get them down pat because now I am the primary. You have to make everything else in your life second."

Bryant did not practice Thursday because of a bruised quadriceps he suffered in the Sept. 11 season opener at the New York Jets. He has not taken part in a full workout since Sept. 9. He took part on a limited basis in two practices last week and had another limited session during Wednesday's workout.

That's it.

In all likelihood Bryant will be listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Detroit.

"When you stress it like you do during the course of a ballgame," coach Jason Garrett said of the injury, "sometimes it doesn't bounce back as quickly as you want it to."

Garrett said last week that a big part of dependability is availability. Bill Parcells used to say about Keyshawn Johnson, "he's with me on Sundays."

Bryant has not gotten to that point 14 games into his career. He has had remarkable, take-your-breath-away moments, but much of Bryant's story so far has been about learning the playbook, making meetings and injuries.

An ankle injury. A rib injury. A back injury. Now the quadriceps injury. He caught four passes for 63 yards Monday versus Washington, including a 30-yarder on third-and-21 that set up the game-winning field goal, but he appeared to hurt his wrist and shoulder during the game.

Maybe it just takes time. Irvin missed two games as a rookie with a sprained ankle. He missed 10 games in 1989 after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament and the first four in 1990 because of his rehab. He played in the next 92 games before receiving a five-game suspension by the NFL in 1996.

"You've got to learn how to be a pro," Irvin said. "You have to learn the responsibilities as a pro. It's different than they are in college. My responsibility in college is, OK, I've got to make sure I got the grades so I can be on the field. In the pros, your responsibility is the field. Period."

With Miles Austin out for the second straight week with a hamstring injury, the Cowboys need Bryant on the field. There was a difference in what Washington did defensively when Bryant was on and off the field.

"Ultimately," Garrett said, "he affected the game just by breaking the huddle."

Garrett talked this week about monitoring Bryant's snaps to make sure the receiver would last four quarters.

"Anybody who has watched him play understands he comes out of the gates going," Garrett said. "He plays with great passion and enthusiasm. And he goes 100 miles an hour. And at no point do we say, 'We want you to pace yourself.'"

Irvin does not want that, either.

"I want him to be a little more smart about his emotions," Irvin said, "because emotions wear you down. Kobe Bryant said something real wise one time: 'You've got to know when to rest on the basketball court.' You've got to know when to rest on the football field, too. You've got to know when you can be emotional and when you should be emotional. Dez, all the time, just get to the play, just get to the play, and when you score a touchdown you can act the fool. Right now, let's get to the huddle."

Right now even that is not easy.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.