- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2020

As time went by and Dez Bryant faded further and further out of the public’s eye, the wide receiver’s daughter offered the nagging reminders he needed. Bryant, away from the league since 2018, heard the same query over and over.

“My daughter kept asking me [if I] was going to play football, and I just ignored the question,” Bryant said. “I was like, ‘You know what, baby? I’m going to give it a go.’”

So Bryant began training, rehabilitating from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered during his second practice as a member of the New Orleans Saints two years ago. He got back to a point where he felt physically ready to play in the NFL again. His agent made some calls.

And now he’s a member of the Baltimore Ravens, who signed him off their practice squad Nov. 28. Back in the league, the former All-Pro wideout will line up opposite the Cowboys — the team he spent eight years with — when Baltimore hosts Dallas on Tuesday night.

Much has happened since the Cowboys released Bryant following the 2017 season. So after that roundabout journey back onto an active roster, Bryant is grateful for the chance to play against his former team.

“I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it,” Bryant said. “A lot of those guys on the team I know; I’m real good friends with. … Whenever we line up across from one another, I think it’s going to be fun.”

At one point, there might’ve been more riding on this game for Bryant. Shortly after Dallas released the three-time Pro Bowler, Bryant made his opinion clear. “It’s very personal,” Bryant tweeted at the time, adding that the perceived slight made him find his edge.

But that was two years ago, and two years offered Bryant plenty of time to find a new perspective. There’s still motivation — the Ravens, at 6-5, need wins to stay in the playoff hunt — yet that motivation isn’t tinted in negativity.

“For the most part, it’s water under the bridge,” Bryant said. “That’s two years that I had time to get myself together. You have to move forward with life, because life [isn’t] going to wait on you. Time waits on no one.”

Bryant knows that all too well. The Oklahoma State product had been one of the most dominant wide receivers in the league, frequently flashing his signature ‘X’ celebration following scores. Bryant produced over 1,000 receiving yards for three straight seasons. After the second of those, 2013, Bryant earned his first Pro Bowl nod.

He did even better in 2014, with 1,320 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns during the regular season. Bryant could’ve had another score in the NFC Divisional Round against the Green Bay Packers, but the catch-or-no-catch debate still lingers regarding his would-be touchdown.

Bryant has had a more muted role since joining the Ravens. He has four receptions for 28 yards in three games. On Tuesday, though, quarterback Lamar Jackson should be back under center and Bryant may have additional pass-catching opportunities against Dallas.

“I think Dez has been a true pro since the moment he got here,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “His attitude has been great every week. I’m sure there’s an extra glimmer this week for him. There always is when you go up against one of your old teams.”

Bryant’s reputation preceded him when he arrived in Baltimore, initially a practice squad player but with a star power so much larger than that.

Quarterback Trace McSorley watched Bryant play on TV as he grew up. He knew Bryant’s talent level, but McSorley was immediately impressed by what Bryant brought to the Ravens. It went beyond his skill on the field — although that’s a major part. McSorley noted Bryant’s competitiveness and energy, and how his addition seemed to buoy his teammates.

“You can kind of see when he starts making plays on the practice field, the reason why he is Dez Bryant,” McSorley said. “How he attacks the ball, how he runs routes, strong to the catch point and all those kinds of things. It was just really cool to kind of see him live, in person, actually in a practice setting, as opposed to just on TV, as I did when I was growing up.”

Baltimore is still waiting for Bryant’s standout attributes to translate to games, although Roman said the opportunities will be there for Bryant. With Dallas coming to M&T Bank Stadium on Tuesday, Bryant may have that opportunity to prove he’s still the X-factor he was for so long with the Cowboys — even two years removed from that departure.

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