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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 24, 2010

NFL draft: Cowboys give new WR Bryant hallowed jersey No. 88

AP Sports Writer

IRVING, Texas Trading up to pick Dez Bryant in the first round was only one way Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones showed his affection for the receiver.

He went a step further Friday by giving Bryant No. 88.

Made famous in the 1970s when Drew Pearson wore it while catching passes from Roger Staubach, the jersey's reputation grew when Michael Irvin wore it while catching passes from Troy Aikman in the 1990s. Now Bryant gets the chance to turn it into an inviting target for Tony Romo.

"Dez has the chance to make the same kind of impact that the people who have worn this jersey before have had, and personally I think it has a nice synergy relative to our fans," Jones said. "One of the first things I said when we made the pick was, 'Get No. 88 out."'

Bryant realizes this is an honor, even if he doesn't understand the details. After all, he was just 10 when Irvin caught his last pass and Pearson's last reception was five years before Bryant was born.

"I know it means a lot to Mr. Jerry Jones," Bryant said. "I'm excited to wear that. I'm very excited he thinks that I can be a great player."

The Cowboys made one pick Friday, moving up from 59 to 55 to get linebacker Sean Lee from Penn State. Jones said the Cowboys had him rated among their top 16 selections in the entire draft. They tried moving up to the front of third round, but wound up able to land him near the end.

Other teams shied away because of knee injuries: a torn ligament in the right knee that cost him his 2008 season, then a sprained left knee that kept him out three games last season. Dallas gave up the lower of two fourth-round picks to get him, and sees him as a younger version of Keith Brooking, both in intensity and ability.

"He does all the things you need a linebacker to do," coach Wade Phillips said, adding that Lee "fits right with that tradition" of great Penn State linebackers.

This isn't the first time in the post-Irvin era that Jones handed No. 88 to a receiver. Coincidentally, the other was named Bryant, too. Antonio Bryant was dumped after 2 seasons.

Both Bryants were considered elite talents who slipped because of character issues. Dallas considered Dez Bryant among the 10 best players available, but got him at No. 24. The Cowboys are confident this Bryant's problems were nothing more than youthful mistakes, such as lying to the NCAA (which kept him off the field the last 10 games of last season at Oklahoma State) and problems showing up on time.

When it was noted that this introductory news conference started about 10 minutes late, everyone laughed because that's pretty typical for Jones.

"Some people can be late," Phillips said, smiling.

Jones brushed it off, too, then noted with a straight face that Bryant had been there more than an hour.

Bryant certainly didn't come across as a troublemaker. His answers were peppered with "yes, sir" and "no, sir." He remained overwhelmed that he was drafted by the team he rooted for while growing up in East Texas. He also said he won't carry a chip on his shoulder for falling in the draft, even though it cost him millions of dollars.

"I put that all in the past," Bryant said. "I have flipped a new chapter in life. I am a Dallas Cowboy now and I am looking ahead."

He's already looking ahead to a rookie minicamp next week, even bringing his playbook to the news conference. He also said he is "pretty sure that I will be here on the first day of camp," which bears watching because he's pals with Michael Crabtree, who held out until October last season; Bryant also is surrounded by many of the same people.

"I enjoy football," Bryant said. "I have been away from the game for a little while and I am ready to get back on the field."

Stephen Jones, who handles the team's contract negotiations, said he expects things to work out smoothly.

"We have a great history and a great relationship with (agent) Eugene Parker," Jones said. "As Dez said, hopefully we will be able to get that done in a timely fashion."

The Cowboys aren't worried about a heart irregularity discovered during the combine. Jerry Jones said the team's doctors "have zero concern of him having a full life, full career."

Bryant is 6-foot-2, 225 pounds big enough to run over defensive backs but also fast enough to run by them, and with great hands. He had 23 touchdown catches in his last 16 games for Oklahoma State.

He likely will step in as the third receiver behind Pro Bowler Miles Austin and Roy Williams. He certainly will replace Patrick Crayton as the punt returner; Bryant scored on three of his last 20 punt returns in college.

"Punt return touchdowns are more exciting than receiving a touchdown," Bryant said. "Giving me the opportunity to return a punt really means a lot to me. It is just that feeling of receiving the punt, seeing that open space and seeing the green. It is a great feeling."