For two-and-a-half seasons, the jury was still out on Bryant. The otherworldly talent was always apparent, but the ability to apply it consistently was ever in doubt. He’d make a circus catch-and-run one series, then make his quarterback look foolish the next. Something clicked the second half of the 2013 season, and everything changed. The long development was done, and the playmaker wearing No. 88 had arrived.
Seeing Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett greet Houston DC Wade Phillips during pregame warmups, one can’t help but wonder how Bryant would have developed under Phillips’ laissez fair brand of leadership. Would Bryant be a consistent play-making threat on the field? Would he be in trouble with the law off it?
With Wade as his guide, would Bryant be screaming encouragement to teammates in a game that means nothing?
Some will argue Bryant was destined for stardom regardless, but more than likely Bryant is a living testament to Garrett’s ability to develop talent, focus players, and move men. Culture starts at the top. Bryant was drafted on Phillips’ watch, but he became a man under Garrett’s tutelage. The Dez Bryant who takes the field next Sunday night at AT&T Stadium is every bit Jason Garrett’s man, and is at least in part a product of Garrett’s leadership.
There was nothing much to see on the field Thursday night – the real action was on the sideline, away from the cameras, where a superstar pushed his team to compete in a game that meant nothing. We learned that the 2013 Cowboys will play hard this season. They’ll play with focus. They’ll play with determination. They’ll play with passion. Stars like Bryant will lead them that way. The last vestiges of Wade’s lethargy have been swept away – after two years of rebuilding, this is finally Garrett’s team.
Is the talent good enough to win? Maybe. The rebuilding continues, and there are still holes and depth issues along both lines. But the dynasty days appear done, and parity rules in the NFL. As fans, all we can really hope for is the Cowboys will field a team that is competitive and has a chance to get hot at the right time. Hearing Bryant rasp his way through that preseason interview indicates Garrett’s culture of passion and accountability has taken firm hold. It’s the kind of culture that, with the right players, can deliver a perennial contender.
Even some in the elite media are starting to come around in recognizing Garrett’s prowess. It’s been lonely on that bandwagon – welcome aboard. What did we really learn Thursday night? That if Jerry trusts his gut and stays the course with Garrett, this team can be fun to watch for years to come.