Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part VI: Roy Williams vs. Dez Bryant
By Jonathan Bales
Today comes the battle most fans think of as “the big one”–veteran Roy Williams versus rookie Dez Bryant. I have yet to speak to a fan who doesn’t believe that Bryant and Miles Austin are the future of the Cowboys’ wide receiver position. If Dallas’ roster decisions were simply a popularity contest, Williams would have been out of Big D awhile ago.
Nonetheless, Williams truly does appear to have a new attitude this season. He’s been brash. He’s been talkative. He’s been conceited. A few months ago he said:
“Dez Bryant wants to play. The only way he is going to play is to get No. 11 off the field, and that’s going to be tough to do.”
Sound a bit different from the ’09 version of Roy Williams? I explained in a previous article why this isn’t a “new” Roy Williams, but instead, we are finally obtaining a glimpse of the “old” Roy Williams–the University of Texas variety.
The quote came just a few weeks after I begged Williams to do whatever he can to regain his “swag.“ When your team drafts the consensus number one receiver (in terms of pure talent) just months after a breakout season by a young receiver who figures to be in Dallas for quite a few years, you have no choice but to come out swinging. What does Williams have to lose?
Williams is supremely talented, but in 2010 we will discover if he is a true champion. If so, Bryant will have to fight like hell to win the No. 2 receiver job.
- Roy Williams
Make no mistake about it–Roy Williams struggled badly in 2009. I gave him a “D+” in my 2009 Cowboys wide receiver grades.
We all know the sort of routes Williams is comfortable running: ins, digs, slants, posts, i.e. routes where he can catch the ball in stride and get moving downfield. He actually has fairly good speed once his engine starts running.
Despite the recent drops, Williams also has some of the better hands in the NFL. He made circus-like catches game after game in Detroit (with few drops), meaning his current struggles are more mental than anything.
Williams’ biggest weakness is a lack of quickness which inhibits his ability to effectively run routes which invoke a quick stop, such as comebacks and curls.
Like I said earlier, Williams should really not worry about his on-field ability for now and concentrate on regaining his confidence. If he does that, he has a legitimate shot at holding onto his job–for now.
- Dez Bryant
Taken from my original pre-draft scouting report on Bryant:
Bryant is an absolute beast. There is simply no other way to put it. He is ranked No. 10 in our latest Big Board, and he is only that low due to concerns about his attitude and work ethic.
Bryant is a bit of a mystery to us. He does bone-headed things like show up to his Pro Day with no cleats or (allegedly) arrive late to games. However, one look at the guy lets you know he is a hard-worker. Everybody knows Bryant can play–the question teams must answer will be how much he loves football.
On the field, we are confident in saying Bryant is every bit as talented as Larry Fitzgerald when he left Pitt. That is a gigantic statement, but this kid has gigantic game. His game tape and production are off the charts. He displays top-notch hands and run after the catch ability.
We loved Michael Crabtree coming out of Texas Tech last year, and we will tell you there is really no comparing him to Bryant. Bryant is superior in every aspect of the game–he runs better routes and is even more dangerous once he gets his hands on the ball.
Bryant recorded varying forty times at his Pro Day–from 4.52 (which he ran twice) to 4.68. We are unconcerned about that number. He plays as fast as any receiver in this class and we have yet to see him get caught from behind.
Again, every concern about Bryant is an off-field issue. If he can prove he has the requisite attitude and work ethic to succeed in the NFL, there is simply no way he drops to the Cowboys.
Pros/Cons of Starting. . .
- Roy Williams
Williams has experience in the Cowboys’ system (even if he has yet to excel in it) and will have an immediate leg up on Bryant due to his knowledge of the playbook. Don’t forget Williams is a naturally gifted pass-catcher who can be a big-time red zone threat. He scored seven touchdowns last season despite hauling in just 43 total catches. He’s also a darn good blocker (he’s not a devastating hitter, but Williams uses his size and excellent body position to open lanes for the backs).
On the downside, the Cowboys may be stunting the growth of Bryant if they hold him back this season. Everybody and their brother thinks Bryant is the future for Dallas out wide, so why wait?
- Dez Bryant
The biggest pro of starting Bryant immediately: upside. The kid could struggle in 2010, or he could be amazing. If the latter is the case, opposing defenses simply won’t have enough players to effectively stop Bryant, Austin, Witten, Jones & Co. And as large of a red zone threat as Williams may be, Bryant is even better. He has perhaps the most polished ball skills of any receiver coming out of college since Larry Fitzgerald.
Bryant’s inexperience does make starting him a risk, however. He also figures to be dynamite on returns, but his time there could be limited if he is starting opposite Austin.
This battle is different from previous ones in that both players can be on the field at the same time. I explained a few weeks ago why the Cowboys should run more three-receiver sets in 2010. You can probably expect to see both Williams and Bryant on the field together quite a lot this season.
As of right now, though, Williams is the starter. Most NFL pundits believe Bryant will overtake him by the start of the season, but I wouldn’t be so sure. The preseason will be vital for Williams, but if he can make a few plays (and avoid any drops), I wouldn’t bet against him opening the season as the starter.
I’ve been vocal in my support for Williams thus far this offseason, so I won’t stop now. In reality, it is simple for the former UT star: if he plays consistently well in both the preseason and regular season, he will retain his job. If not, he won’t.