Dez Bryant and Lucky Whitehead were the last two Dallas Cowboys off the field on Monday, after the team's first day of padded practice, the two receivers going over and over and over specific little drills punctuated by a ridiculous scene at the JUGS machine featuring Dez trying to catch balls traveling about 60 MPH ... from about four yards away from the machine.
“I’m ready to get back in beast mode,'' Bryant said.
For Bryant, that means a healthy season -- being able "to run all day'' -- and a return to his Pro Bowl form in 2016. He attacked his foot surgery rehab with passion, anger, even, and he did the same thing to that JUGS machine. And yet through the drills, he alternated between that anger and a joy driven simply by being on the field in Oxnard, working with his "family'' members Tony Romo and Jason Witten.
At one point, well after regular practice was over, he leaned toward a friend and whispered, "Tomorrow, I'm gonna put an end to that s***.''
Was he talking about cornerback Mo Claiborne having a great practice at Dez' expense? Was he talking about being one of Dallas' "monitored'' players? Was he talking about wanting to put on the show for the thousands of camp attendees who will chant his name?
“You don’t ever want to go through that,” Bryant said of being able to play just nine games last year, most of those below 100 percent. “If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what it is. I think just having that in the back of your head, not knowing you’re going to be there, it can only make you better. The route that I and we have been taking has been tremendous so far.''
What did Bryant learn?
“What I learned is you’ve got to stay strong and just keep a positive mind. Break through. I think that 2015 year was pure adversity. I think for myself, you just got to get better, you’ve got to look at that and use it as motivation and want it more than the next.”
But there is something more than that. There is peace to be found in football for him, sure. But he needs peace elsewhere, too, a way to be balanced between those who love him and his detractors, between the risks of football and the rewards, between anger and joy.
At one point in the late workout, child star ... of the TV show "Blackish'' was waved onto the field by Dez, the two of them talking about him someday guest-starring on the show. And then Dez played catch with the little boy, taking a break from the anger and spreading some joy ...
And taking some for himself.