Michael Irvin: I used to pray for Dez's talent

Who better to discuss Dez Bryant than an all-time great who used to wear No. 88 for the Cowboys?

ESPNDallas.com caught up with Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin after he visited Cowboys training camp for the NFL Network.

What do you think about what you’re seeing and hearing about Dez Bryant?

“What I’m seeing is good things. I’m seeing a guy that’s starting to understand the totality of the game. Every man that comes into the league has to understand the totality of the game and the big picture of the game, and that’s what he’s starting to see now. When you start seeing the totality of the game on the field and the importance that you have to the team on the field, that’s when it starts clicking. He talked about that today.

“He knows in order for this team to be where they need to be and go where they gotta go, he has to be on the field, dependable and ready to make those plays for his guys. You like hearing stuff like that.

“I like to measure men in distance traveled. When you look at where Dez came from – I’m talking about his upbringing – the story becomes a good story, an inspirational story to tell other young kids that are starting in a tough place. Just because you start here doesn’t mean you have to end here. Then you point to some people who have had some struggles, like a Dez Bryant, but came through on the other end to give that kid hope. That’s why it’s important.”

Is it crazy to talk about 2,000 yards for him?

“Absolutely not. Not for a guy with his talent, that physically gifted. He’s so physically gifted it’s incredible. 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 you, 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 1,392 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.”

How many receivers have you seen as physically gifted as him?

“Not many. Not many in my whole life, period. I ain’t talking about now, I’m talking about in my whole life that had that physical gift, that ability that he has to go up and catch any pass. He can catch any pass. The ability to run by people, the ability to catch a short ball and run around you, through you, however he needs to get there – he has that ability.

“He has the ability that when you see him, you go back in your prayer closet and you go, ‘God, why didn’t you give me that?’ Because I’ve said that: ‘God, if only you’d have given me that. Are you serious?’”

You think Bryant is more talented than you?

“What do you mean? I look at him and say, that’s what I used to pray for. I used to pray for that! I used to pray, ‘Why didn’t you give me this?’ Absolutely!

“What I was great at we can teach. We can teach thinking through the game, consistent route running. We can teach [that]. What he has, you can only hope and pray that God has blessed you with it. That’s the difference.”

Is he learning what you had?

“Yeah, he’s learning it. That’s about being dependable. It’s about understanding that all of these guys are depending on you, that you have a responsibility that’s beyond you, and that’s what he’s understanding now. ‘I’ve got to be on the field. I’ve got to be ready. Guys are depending on me.’ You understand that now. You set the tone. I watched today in practice, him setting the tone.”

Does he remind you of yourself?

“Absolutely. And let me tell you this, I don’t know everything, but I can guarantee you this: Without a guy like that that sets a tone in practice and keeps the intensity up in practice, you have no shot at winning. Nothing. I don’t know everything, but I can guarantee you that. Without a guy like that that plays at that level in practice, you will never do it. You will never do it as a team. It’s vital to this football team, very vital.”

Do you take pride in seeing him wear your No. 88?

“I absolutely enjoy it. I enjoy watching it. People always say, ‘Man, Michael,’ – in the beginning, they’d say, ‘Why’d you let him wear that number?’ Are you joking? Every time he makes a play, I get to relive all of my moments. Drew Pearson told me that once. He said, ‘Every time you make a play, I get to relive my stuff.’ You know?

“I love watching him play, and I love the way he plays. He plays with that intensity. He has that ability to take it to another level, and that’s what we’re all hoping for.

“Not only that, I love his story. I love his journey. His journey wasn’t, everything was given to you. He came from a hard place. Yeah, he had some bumps in the road, but he’s doing what he needs to do now. That makes the story applicable to so many other people’s lives, and it makes it inspirational that I can use for so many other stories and so many other’s people’s lives. I really appreciate him and am thankful he has the number. He’s a good man.”