September 3, 2008

Bryant climbing the wideout charts

Look! Up in the sky!

It's a bird!

It's a plane!

No, no… it's just Dez Bryant.

But it's forgivable to assume it was something else flying in the sky. After all, humans aren't made to take flight on their own. And while the 6-2 wide receiver out of Lufkin, Texas, can't serve as the team's charter, he does have a certain uncanny ability to defy gravity at times.

If you need verification, just ask the Washington State defensive backs. Last weekend in Seattle, Bryant reeled in seven passes for 90 yards, including a couple of the old Josh Fields "Parachute Pass" variety, where quarterback Zac Robinson lofted a pass way up in the sky and Bryant bounced up to bring it down.

Watching him leap up and suck in a ball like it was a fly to his venus flytrap is an amazing display of athletic ability. Bridesmaids should be lucky he doesn't join the fray for the bouquet.

"I've always been that way, ever since I started playing wide receiver," said Bryant of his leaping/catching skill.

Simple enough, since athletic ability like this is often based in God-given ability. But there's more to it than just that. His approach to the game itself is a big part of who he is as a football player. Head coach Mike Gundy calls him fearless.

"Dez will go up and get the ball at any time and then he'll go across the middle at any time," Gundy said. "And that's the one thing you like about a player like that. And the guys that perform fearless out there on the edge can play for a long time. There's just a few guys that have played, even in the NFL, that played fearless. Jerry Rice could come across the middle at any time - he didn't care. And up to this point, Dez will still do that. That's why he's a little bit different than other guys right now."

His first game of 2008 only seems to be a confirmation of what Orange Country saw out of Bryant last season: that he's a special player. Last year, he caught 43 balls for 622 yards and six touchdowns. A Parade All-American and the 54th-best player in his recruiting class by Rivals.com, Bryant amassed 1,203 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior year of high school. There was a ton of buzz surrounding his arrival in Stillwater and he hasn't disappointed. Like with eye-popping lob passes effortlessly caught in spite of defenders getting in his way.

His skill set reminds Gundy of another famous OSU receiver.

"Back when coach (Les) Miles and I were here, we were effective running the ball, so everybody jumped in the box on us and left Rashaun (Woods) out there all by himself," he said. "After we were here for three or four games, we decided we had to take advantage of that because we had a really good player out there. In most cases, he was probably better at what he did than the corner. And we felt like Dez is pretty good at going up and taking the ball out of the air. And Dez is actually more physical, in my opinion."

But wait, there's more.

"He's better at bodying up and Rashaun was a great leaper and could take the ball at the highest point. And Dez can do that, but I think he's a little more physical. So if they overload the run we just try to take advantage of it. And that comes back to signing day. If you don't have a guy out there that can do it, then the play's not any good. You can draw it up on a board, but you've got to have a guy out there that's really athletic and has the ability to go out there and get the ball."

"The only thing I think about is just catching the ball," Bryant said. "That's our job as receivers, to catch the ball, so I really don't think about nothin' else. I don't really care about being hit or how I land, I just try to make the play."

Getting to this point now is something he grew up thinking about. And watching those who came before him served as motivation.

"Just watching great receivers do it, like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, people like that," Bryant said. "When I was younger, that's who I used to watch and I felt like if they could do it, I could do it."

Well, he's doing it, all right. So much so he'll be one of the top targets of the opposition all season long. No matter the game, Bryant will be a focal point. And if he is and gets double-teamed as a result?

"No I'm not worried a bit because I know if they were to double me, they're going to leave somebody open," he said. "And I feel we have much talent around the perimeter to where not only just me and (Brandon) Pettigrew can make plays, but we have Beau Bowling, Artrell Woods, DeMarcus Conner, Jeremy Broadway and Damien Davis - they also can make big plays, too."

While that may or may not be true, the one thing we all do know is that Bryant is on track to become a national name soon, given he stays on the same flight plan he's on currently.

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