IRVING, Texas — The numbers for Dez Bryant over the past four games are scary.
They read: 29 catches, 475 yards, six touchdowns.
But here's what's really scary: Bryant is starting to figure out how to run after the catch.
The last three touchdowns he has scored have come when he caught the ball in the field of play and either turned on the afterburners or put his shoulder into the defender.
He was too fast to be caught on an 85-yard score up the sideline against Washington on Thanksgiving.
Last week, he intimidated the Philadelphia secondary on a 23-yard catch and run to the middle of the field. Then, on a catch 6 yards out of the end zone, he bulled past Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to reach the pylon.
On each play, he wasted no time with a lot of stutter steps. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound player turned and immediately headed upfield, an element in his game that has the Dallas Cowboys' attention.
“The best thing that he did was he went north and south right now,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Sometimes when Dez gets in trouble, he starts kind of dancing too much, and that plays a little bit into the defense's hand. A lot more guys can get around him. I thought he did a good job of putting his foot in the ground and going north and south, splitting defenders and just getting into the end zone.”
Bryant is taking the next step that all coaches want to see in a player's third year. He was a first-round draft pick, but he had a long way to go in his development.
Now they believe they are seeing him mature in his mental approach — not sulking when he doesn't get targets early in games, like last week's, for example — and take to the physical coaching.
“We're trying to encourage him to be explosive after the catch,” receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. “He had a little running room on that first one and took off and ran to daylight and broke away from a bunch of guys. Quite honestly, it looked like some guys maybe didn't want to tackle him. I was proud of the fact that he accelerated into that open area and said, ‘I'm going into the end zone,' and wasn't going to be denied.”
The 6-yard score provided another example of the benefit of not waiting to get upfield. Bryant was one-on-one with Rodgers-Cromartie. But he wouldn't have been for long.
“That's the kind of play, if you don't have the size and strength that a Dez Bryant has, you'll gain some yardage maybe, but you won't get it in unless you're just extremely quick to be able to make a guy miss,” Robinson said. “But there's more than one guy out there. There were a couple guys converging on him. He took the path to get right inside that pylon in the front corner of the end zone. It was a good job by him. A good, physical play by him.
”That's a play that Dez expects from himself, to be able to do that, to run through that tackle and get it in the end zone. It was a huge play. When you can do that, it certainly makes a big difference with your red-zone results.“
Said tight end Jason Witten, ”Those plays that Dez has had, it changed the game for us.“
The Cowboys are happy to be talking about on-field developments with Bryant rather than off-field. He has had his share of distractions, including an arrest on a domestic violence charge this summer days before training camp.
It highlighted the risk the Cowboys took in selecting the then-21-year-old in the first round in 2010, despite an NCAA suspension for lying to investigators and a reputation for immaturity.
But a resolution to the domestic violence charge roughly coincided with the recent surge in his game, and he has avoided any other hurdles to his career.
”I caution anybody saying that there won't be bumps. There may be more bumps in the future,“ executive vice president Stephen Jones said. ”Obviously, he's trying to stay away from that stuff. I commend him. He has done a heck of a job. He is certainly maturing. He is doing a great job on the field for the Cowboys, and from everything I can see, he is doing a great job off the field with his family.“
In practice, Bryant's approach might also be changing. The Cowboys say he has always had good practice habits. But safety Danny McCray sees subtle changes.
”I wouldn't say he's come to practice different because every time he's come to practice, he's playing like he's in the game,“ McCray said. ”He's making one-handed catches. His first year, he was doing amazing stuff. He's continued to do that. I think now it's more taking it from the practice field to the game, every snap, first half, second half, and you see him showing up.
“And he gets on himself when he messes up. If he drops a ball or runs a route, he's hard enough on himself to where he'll get it right the next time and won't make that same mistake. He's not blowing it off like, ‘Yeah, I'll do it right next time.' He's going to ask the coach, ‘How can I do this better, how can I do that better?' You see him talking to the coach the whole time.”
Last week, after one of the Bryant touchdowns, the camera caught him and Robinson in what looked like an emotional moment — embracing, talking to each other, the coach's face in the receiver's helmet.
Robinson said it wasn't quite like that — they just wanted to make sure they could be heard without sideline cameras and microphones picking up their conversation. But Robinson said he was passing on some meaningful words.
“Just telling him, ‘Hey, that's what we're expecting from you,'.” Robinson said. ‘We're proud of you, you're doing a great job, don't relax, there's more. There's more out there for you today. You've got to keep playing.'.“
Playing the way he's been playing. Scary.
MCT Information Services