You know what people say about first impressions.
You don’t get a second chance to make a good one.
Dallas Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant made sure he got off to a good start on the first day of training camp Saturday, taking the field some 45 minutes before practice at the Alamodome.
Bryant wasn’t just early for practice, he was the first player on the field.
“I just wanted to show everybody that I’m ready to go, ready to play,” Bryant said after the Cowboys opened their fifth training camp in San Antonio. “I’m ready to do whatever they ask me to do. I just want to work hard and give 100 percent. I want to bring my ‘A’ game every day.”
Bryant was an instant hit with the record crowd of 19,437, drawing cheers every time he caught a pass. Fast and quick, Bryant looked smooth as he came out of his cuts and wowed fans with several nifty catches.
In one drill, he brought a pass down with one hand near the sideline and stayed inbounds.
“I had a good time,” Bryant said. “It’s great to play in front of so many fans. They gave me great support. I owe it to the fans to work hard when I’m out there.”
Saturday’s crowd broke the Cowboys’ Alamodome training camp attendance record of 13,708, set last Aug. 1.
“It felt like a game,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “To their credit, these fans are passionate. I can’t imagine being part of another family.”
Bryant, who left Oklahoma State after his junior season, signed a contract with the Cowboys on Thursday, avoiding a holdout in the nick of time.
“I wanted to get the contract out of the way so I could get on the field and concentrate just on football,” Bryant said.
Bryant stayed on the field for nearly an hour after practice Saturday, signing autographs and talking to waves of reporters. He even penned his name on a 9-month-old baby boy’s pajamas – with the kid wearing them.
Now that was a sight. What is even more amazing is that the kid already had other autographs on his jammies.
“Hey, Diz,” the father yelled from the first row of the north-end zone stands, where a horde of fans had gathered to get the player’s autograph. “Sign the baby.”
He passed the boy down and Bryant did just that.
Curious, I asked Bryant if he had ever autographed a baby’s clothes before.
“I’ve done it about twice,” he said.
This kid – and I mean Bryant – is going to be fun to write about.
Although he has a lot to learn about the pro game, Bryant has the physical skills to be an outstanding wide receiver and give the
Cowboys the long-ball threat all NFL teams covet.
While I know this hardly qualifies as a profound observation, Roy Williams could be hard pressed to keep his starting job once Bryant finds his groove.
Can you imagine how potent the Cowboys’ passing game could be with Bryant, Pro Bowl wide receiver Miles Austin and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten on the field at the same time?
“He’s doing a good job,” Romo said of Bryant. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to play with him.”
The Cowboys traded up three spots to select Bryant 24th overall in April’s NFL draft. He starred at Oklahoma State, but his pro stock dropped when he played in only three games as a junior last year. Bryant’s season was cut short when he was suspended by the NCAA for lying to investigators about a meeting with former All-Pro Deion Sanders.
“Of course, I missed football because I love to play,” Bryant said. “But what I did out here today has nothing to do with the past. Ever since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of playing pro football. I just wanted to come out today and send a message.”
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said he wasn’t surprised to see Bryant connect with the crowd.
“People recognized him,” Phillips said. “They know he’s our No. 1 draft pick. What they see is a guy running and catching the ball, and they don’t look at whether he’s being covered. They just saw him catching those passes. I thought he gave good effort and caught the ball well, but I’ll have to look at the film of practice and see how he ran all his routes.”
That said, Phillips left no doubt what he thinks of Bryant’s talent.
“He looked as good as any player at any position, on the first day, as anybody I’ve seen in a long time,” Phillips said. “He’s got a lot of ability.”
Wearing jersey No. 88, Bryant said he feels a responsibility to live up the standards of two former Cowboys greats who wore the same number, Hall of Famer Michael Irvin and Drew Pearson.
“It surprised me a lot when they gave me No. 88,” Bryant said. “I know what that number means in Cowboys history. I take great pride in wearing that number. My job is to believe in myself and help this team win. Wherever they put me, I’m going to work hard.”
Bryant demonstrated that commitment to the fans and his teammates Saturday. The challenge will come in sustaining that focus.
Considering how Bryant impressed on his first day of training camp, that probably won’t be a problem.