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NFL AM: Dez Bryant Prepares To Take Next Step in Recovery

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It’s an important season ahead for the Dallas Cowboys, and the potential success of that season once again hinges on the health a few key players. Dallas got good news on one of them Wednesday, as x-rays on the foot of wide receiver Dez Bryant revealed the injury that cost the star wideout most of the 2015 season is healing nicely.

Bryant, who has been going through light workouts with his teammates but not participating fully during Cowboys OTAs the last two weeks, is scheduled to meet with team doctors at the end of the week, where he hopes to get final approval to take the next step in the recovery and be cleared to begin participating in football drills.

“Hopefully he will be cleared to take the next step, and then we have to decide what that next step is,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said on Wednesday. “He’s done a really good job in his rehab. He’s been involved in some of the walk-through situations, and I think he’s benefited from that. He’s really watching practice and doing his rehab on the side, and all of that has gone well.”

Bryant initially suffered the injury to his right foot during the team’s 2015 season opener against the New York Giants. It was diagnosed then as a “Jones fracture” to the fifth metatarsal and that injury, which required surgery to repair, originally carried an 8-12 week recovery timetable.

However, the Cowboys wideout missed just four games and Dallas’ bye week before returning in Week 7. He went on to play in each of Dallas’ next eight games to varying degrees of success, but was clearly hampered by lingering pain in the foot, which he aggravated in the second week after his return. He went on to suffer nagging ankle and knee injuries to the same leg over the course of the season, and by Week 15, with the season well out of reach for the Cowboys, Bryant was shut down.

In January, the Dallas star had a second bone graft surgery on his foot and an additional procedure to remove a bone spur from his ankle. After those surgeries, Bryant admitted that he rushed back too soon following the initial injury and that the stress he put on the foot likely led to the nagging injuries that hindered the rest of his season.

“After I broke my foot and tried to come back, I knew I wasn’t (right),” he said. “But at the same time, I knew what was at stake. I thought I could potentially perform at a high level despite dealing with this foot. It turned out very unfortunate. I knew exactly what I was dealing with when I chose to come back. It didn’t work out as planned. I’m taking it for whatever it is. I’m just ready to train. I’m ready to get back, ready to get back 100 percent to do what I love to do, and that’s get in the end zone.”

Having Bryant back at full health this season would obviously be a huge boon for Dallas’ chances to rise back to the top of the NFC East after such a disappointing 2015 season. The six-year pro had arguably his best season of his career in 2014, when he hauled in a career-high and league-leading 16 touchdowns. Bryant’s health isn’t quite as important to the success of the Cowboys in 2016 as Romo’s is, but it’s close. Even if Bryant is at full strength, if Romo is out, forcing the team to rely on backup Kellen Moore, the ceiling dips significantly on Bryant’s production.

However, the Cowboys quarterback wouldn’t likely have near the success he might enjoy with his top flight wideout if Bryant were to be sidelined again. So the two players need each other to reach the peak of their success, and Dallas needs both of them if they’re going to have any chance to return to glory.

Bryant getting ready to take the next step is another hurdle cleared on the path to that, but there’s still a long way to go to even get to training camp, and with a fragile quarterback and a fragile No. 1 receiver, Cowboys fans are on alert waiting for the other shoe to drop and another setback. Sometimes it seems like it’s only a matter of time.

DALLAS ROOKIE MALIEK COLLINS BREAKS FOOT 

On the subject of Cowboys setbacks and broken feet, the team got a less devastating but still unwelcome one on Wednesday when rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins, the team’s third round draft pick, was diagnosed with a broken right foot.

The University of Nebraska product suffered the injury last week during the first round of Dallas OTA. Like Bryant last fall, Collins had surgery to insert a screw into his foot and also had a bone graft performed on the injured area. He is expected to miss 10-12 weeks while he recovers. That timetable puts Collins out for most if not all of training camp and perhaps into the regular season depending on how much conditioning he is able to do during the backend of the recovery progress.

The Cowboys had high hopes that the addition of Collins through the draft could help stabilize their front four early in the season, when they will be without defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory due to injury. The Cowboys are deep on the inside with tackles Tyrone Crawford and free agent addition Cedric Thornton, but there was thought that if Collins could be ready to contribute from Day 1, the team could move one of those two, likely Crawford, to the outside early in the season to alleviate the pain of being without Lawrence and Gregory.

“He’s going to be a cornerstone player,” team owner Jerry Jones said of Collins after rookie camp. “He’s a guy when we started the second round we look at as someone that could potentially step in here and have those kind of snaps,” Jones said. “I’m reluctant to say starter because I don’t want to do that. On the other hand he’s going to get a lot of snaps. I do predict that now.

Instead, Dallas will have to turn to another option to fix their weakened outside pass rush.

The team, which has been in dire need of pass rush help since the offseason began and did not address the need sufficiently in free agency or the draft, has been linked to veteran free agent Dwight Freeney in recent weeks. But Executive VP Stephen Jones said recently that the team is more likely to go with youth to fill their needs.

“We kind of like our young guys right now,” he said. “Obviously Dwight has had an amazing career. Nothing to say but great things about Dwight with what he’s accomplished in this league, but we all know this is a younger man’s game. But I do think what he showed last year he was able to help a playoff team. So, all those things will be things that we keep our eyes on. But I don’t think we’re ready to make any move on any veteran that is available at this point.”

Of course, that all could change now that one of those young guys is set to miss time likely into the regular season. The Cowboys are running out of bodies to put on their front line and the outside options are slim, making a union with Freeney make more and more sense for both sides.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys