Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is continually getting a better handle on how to harness his immense potential. On a torrid touchdown tear as of late, Bryant will continue his hot streak despite a broken finger injury and a tough matchup against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
As the No. 24 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, Bryant's talent has never been in question—but some of his decisions and behavior off the field have.
In an interview with ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon, though, Bryant opens up and sheds light on a rough childhood that involved bouncing around multiple homes before landing at Oklahoma State to play college football.
Bryant is appreciative of the disciplinary structure he now has in place within the Cowboys organization, which was absent as he was growing up.
In his own words, Bryant implies that he is still playing catch-up as far as handling his own responsibilities (via McMahon's piece):
I don't want to make excuses, but people brought up differently see different things...having two parents, having no parents. It's different. I just feel like it's been a learning process for me my whole life, and I'm just getting to it.
I got real responsibilities I feel like I'm handling the right way. I'm enjoying my life the way I should have been enjoying it a long time ago.
Cowboys GM and owner Jerry Jones believes that Bryant is getting better, too, and the supremely gifted receiver has made major strides to justify Jones' faith in him—especially recently. The wideout also mentioned paying more attention to the smaller things and insists that this new focus on smaller details will continue to lead to positive results both on and off the gridiron.
It's hard to argue with that notion.
ESPN's Trey Wingo provided a stat—confusing question marks aside—to indicate just how well Bryant has been playing as of late:
Since week 10, Dez Bryant has 7 TD catches. most in NFL? Second on that list? Danario Alexander of the Chargers with 5— trey wingo (@wingoz) December 13, 2012
Before Dallas won four of its last five games to stand at 7-6 and in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt, the offense was moving the ball well but struggling to get into the end zone.
Needless to say, Bryant has helped out immensely in that regard.
At 6'2" and 220 pounds, he is an invaluable red-zone target along with star TE Jason Witten, which puts opposing defenses in a difficult dilemma near the goal line. That has been a big key to the turnaround Dallas has enjoyed, and in a season-saving victory in Cincinnati in Week 14, Bryant came through in the clutch by snagging a touchdown with under seven minutes left to keep the Cowboys in striking distance.
The Steelers defense is mostly healthy, which hasn't been the case for much of the 2012 season. That said, it hasn't mattered who has been lining up opposite Bryant over the past month and a half.
With Witten and fellow WR Miles Austin deflecting attention, there will be times when Bryant will draw man coverage against either Curtis Brown or Josh Victorian, who will start in place of Cortez Allen, who is listed as doubtful (h/t ESPN).
Sitting just one game behind the New York Giants for the NFC East division lead, the Cowboys and especially Bryant seem to be hitting their strides at the right time.
As for the broken finger, it would require surgery if Dallas weren't in the playoff hunt. But since the team is, Bryant has insisted he will gut through the pain.
For all the criticism Bryant has fairly or unfairly endured, he appears to be showing a massive improvement in all phases of his life. Armed with a new-found work ethic and discipline, it's hard to argue that Bryant won't find the end zone once again against Pittsburgh.