News: Spagnola | What Art Thou, Antonio?

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  1. Bluefin

    Bluefin Well-Known Member

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    What Art Thou, Antonio?

    By MICKEY SPAGNOLA Columnist
    July 31, 2004, 5:35 p.m. (PDT)

    OXNARD, Calif. - Antonio, Antonio, what aren't thou?

    Are you the former Biletnikoff inner for being the best wide receiver in college football that 2000 season?

    Or are you the guy who seemed lost most of last year, and by lost, I mean in the middle of too many of your routes?

    Are you the 23-year-old man who flies off the handle at the littlest of things, that lack of anger management stalking you from college all the way to the Dallas Cowboys' practice field where one of your fits culminated in a jersey being slung in the middle of practice at the head coach?

    Or are you the much more mature-seeming young man who faced the media for the first time since being escorted out of The Ranch following the ill-advised confrontation with Bill Parcells last month?

    If you think this at times recalcitrant wide receiver with a huge upside whose spontaneity leaves him perpetually perched on the cliff's edge is confounding to you, then you're not alone. Bryant is confounding to the Cowboys, too, and this, his third year, must be the season that settles the confusion - one way or another.

    Either he's dependable or not, as a player as much as a person. Either he's future starter at wide receiver or not, be that this year or next. The Cowboys just need a definitive answer at a position sorely in need of a youth infusion.

    Hey, it's great the Cowboys traded for Keyshawn Johnson this off-season, giving them an inside, big-receiver dimension they badly needed last season. But he turned 32 last week.

    And that would not be so bad if not for, at least for now, second receiver Terry Glenn having turned 30 last Saturday. That's, for now, two 30-year-olds starting at wide receiver, and I would think that's not quite the same as starting Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, although even the Raiders discovered the downside last year of aging receivers.

    So if the Cowboys are indeed building for the future, then they need to get on with it at wide receiver, too, and just in case Bryant needs a reminder, the Cowboys do have two first-round draft choices next year. Chances are one of those will be used on offense, and they probably won't go quarterback, running back or tight end, and they haven't gone offensive line since 1981.

    That leaves . . . .

    Antonio, Antonio.

    He's a second-round pick. He's in his third season, with one more year left on his contract. He was a disappointment last year on the field after an encouraging rookie season. He was a disappointment last month, losing his cool with Keyshawn probably egging him on and new receiver coach Todd Haley trying to intervene, But worse, he then committed the mortal sin of allowing that frustration overflow at Parcells.

    He emerged from his near six-week stay in purgatory here Saturday morning, practicing and working out with his team for the first time since being banished from The Ranch until a cooler head could prevail.

    Bryant says he's cool.

    "It's all about learning," Bryant said somewhat reflective, so maybe he has. "If you don't learn, then you have regrets."

    He would not go into the issues he was so worried about, the ones which caused him to act irrationally enough to have been released had he not demonstrated the potential to be a starting receiver in this league, and had the Cowboys not had such a need for a younger receiver - either this year or next.

    See Willie Blade, Keith Davis circa 2003, Kareem Larrimore and, really, we could go on and on, guys whose talents and the team's need did not override their damning issues.

    Bryant though did offer this bit of logic, which seemed rather sound when asked if this was a one-day deal or something that had been accumulating over time.

    "It definitely wasn't a single-day boiling over," Bryant said. "That would be a crazy man to do that, and I'm not that crazy.

    "I don't feel like I did something treacherous, like coming in there with an Uzi and shooting up the place. I'm back, so that means something."

    Yes he is, but as I've repeatedly said, Bryant steps back in the box with a one-and-two count, and he had better protect the black on the outside corner of the plate. He probably only has one strike left, and as in softball, a fouled ball is as good as a third strike.

    We talk not of just his behavior, but of his play, too. Evidently there is reason Bryant's rookie year former offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet wasted so many snaps on washed-up Darnay Scott. Evidently there is reason Terry Glenn, thought to be brought in last year as the third receiver, leapfrogged ahead of Bryant into the starting lineup.

    And if you would have listened to Parcells here Saturday morning after the Cowboys' opening training camp practice, you would've had to be illiterate not to be able to read between the lines.

    "I like his skills, that's something I like - he can run, is quick and is elusive, and hopefully he can add the things to it to comprise the total package, and that's what we're going to work on," Parcells said.

    "With any player, with any position, not just Antonio, you got to be consistent, dependable, reliable - not improvising at the wrong time. You got to be solid, got to make the sound plays first and then, you know, take your chances after that. We'll work on that, we'll be all right."

    Parcells basically was saying Bryant did not consistently run good routes last year. Parcells basically was saying Bryant couldn't be depended on to be where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there last year. Parcells basically was saying Bryant freelanced far too much while running routes, and that can get a quarterback in trouble faster than anything else.

    Bryant must become more disciplined. If he is to run an eight-yard slant, he can't be cutting his route off at six yards, nor wait to break at nine. Eight yards is eight yards. If he is to run a slant, he can't let the DB beat him to the cut, and if he should, then he's got to run right through the guy, not double back as he often did a year ago. Quarterbacks on timing routes can't take into account double-backs.

    And most of all, if he is to run a clearing route, he can't start improvising as he did that time in the back of the end zone at Texas Stadium and run the guy covering him right into the path of the intended receiver. Interceptions happen that way.

    Just do what you're supposed to do, and do it well. Do what you're supposed to do, and don't worry about what Keyshawn is doing or what Terry is doing, or what you might think Haley will do. Just do your job.

    And after this first practice back with the team, when asked if Bryant did what he was supposed to do Saturday morning, Parcells in his imitable way to diffuse any issue he wants diffused, said, "We going to have an Antonio vigil every day?"

    Well, no coach. Just today since . . . .

    "He's fine, he'll be fine," Parcells said.

    He needs to be "fine," real fine, because a year-long vigil this year will determine, maybe beyond a shadow of a doubt, if he's this Antonio or that Antonio.

    [​IMG] Parcells sure seemed hopeful Kenyon Coleman could make a significant contribution this year. When talking about veteran Marcellus Wiley playing left end, he abruptly interjected Coleman's name, talking about how much bigger and significantly stronger he is this year.

    [​IMG] So who lined up first at right tackle on the offensive line? Torrin Tucker.

    [​IMG] Who lined up first at Blade's vacated defensive tackle position? Leo Carson.

    [​IMG] During a two-on-two running drill, linebacker Bradie James got his bell rung, to the point after the ensuing break Parcells could be heard saying as he walked by, "Bradie, you back with us?"

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