Bryant Ready for NFL Debut

Antonio Bryant has waited a long time for this. Sunday evening he'll have the opportunity to show the rest of the National Football League what they missed out on when the Dallas Cowboys take on the expansion Houston Texans.

Antonio Bryant Profile

When Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys drafted Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Bryant in the 2nd round on the 2002 NFL draft, you just knew the comparisons to Michael Irvin were right around the corner.

Now, he has the number to match. Bryant was handed over the #88 jersey earlier this week, a number worn by former Cowboy greats Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin. Never shying away from the spotlight, Bryant announced that he felt like he ha, "the ability to be one of those kind of receivers."

Make no mistake, no one has ever questioned Bryant's ability, but his off the field antics, as well as his overall motivation, have sometimes been viewed as a question mark.

"I've known about Antonio Bryant and actually, everyone has. This guy can play," offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet said recently. "For whatever reasons, he fell in the draft and we got him."

Quite frankly, the reasons were numerous. Bryant was suspended by University of Pittsburgh twice in 2001, following the season in which he was the first sophomore to win the Biletnikoff Award in 4 years.

The incidents that led to those suspensions have been well documented, but the important thing is that Byrant seems to have moved past all of that immaturity.

"A lot of people have been doubting me from day one, but I've got a lot to prove this year. I've been saying since I got here that I'm not practicing to be a third receiver," said Bryant when he first arrived in San Antonio.

Bryant's announcement proved to be sort of a prophecy when Rocket Ismail went down with a season ending neck injury just two weeks ago. "It's a blow to the team and I personally feel bad for the guy. He would have helped us out tremendously, especially with his experience and his talent," said Bryant. "But I'll be ready to go in Houston."

Without giving a second thought to Ken-Yon Rambo, Reggie Swinton, or any of the other Cowboys' receivers trying to make the team at the time, Bryant already declared himself the starter. It's obvious he's never had a confidence problem, and it actually is refreshing to see that sort of swagger back in the Cowboys offense.

The only problem is when that swagger gets misinterpreted as an attitude problem. Bryant seems to think a little differently about that. "When people meet me, they're like, whoa," said Bryant.

"He's nothing like what I heard. The media says one thing and they can run away with a story. But when people meet me, they get the truth, it's all just a part of the game."

And speaking of games, the former Pittsburgh star will make his first career start in the NFL Sunday night when the Cowboys take on the expansion Houston Texans on ESPN.

With several years of experience in the West Coast offense at Pitt, Bryant has as good an understanding of Bruce Coslet's game plan as any player wearing the Silver Star.

"They ran the same offense basically at Pitt," said Coslet. "Me and his head coach Walt Harris both learned the system at the same time, so it's not like he's coming in here and learning something brand new. Antonio will have the chance to do some special things here."

Special things certainly seem to be Bryant's future, but the question is how long will it take for him to prove himself worthy of wearing the number of two of the Cowboys' all-time greats?

We will begin to know the answer Sunday evening, but headed into his rookie season you have to admit that he seems to have everything in place to make a run at greatness.

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