IRVING, Texas — Outside of the team's loss and not scoring a touchdown, the first football game in almost a year for Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Dez Bryant couldn't have gone any better.
From meeting his hero, LeBron James, on the sideline before the game and James knowing who he was, to surprisingly being the team's most targeted receiver, last week's season opener at Washington was a dream come true.
"Man, that's crazy," a still-excited Bryant said in the Cowboys' locker room Friday. "That's King James. Just to see him. Not only that, he said my name. He actually knew who I was. I felt real good after that. That was just crazy. That was exciting to see him on the sideline cheering for the Cowboys."
Now that he's gotten his legs back under him after missing the preseason with a high ankle sprain and a game's experience after missing nearly all of last season at Oklahoma State because of a suspension, Bryant says he's ready to take off in Sunday's home opener against the Chicago Bears.
A confident and more assured Bryant feels he's back to his previous explosive self and ready to show Cowboys fans why he was worthy of a first-round pick.
"I think I've got a little bit more confidence since I've been out for my first game," Bryant said. "I was ... I don't want to say nervous, but I had the jitters. Now I feel like since I got that one game out of the way, I'm back to my old self."
From the Cowboys' point of view, Bryant was just fine in his NFL debut, catching eight passes for 56 yards. Certainly there are things he needs to work on after missing the majority of training camp and all of the preseason. But the Cowboys were so comfortable with Bryant that he led Cowboys receivers in passes thrown in his direction. Bryant was targeted with 12 passes, while $9 million-a-year receivers Miles Austin and Roy Williams had 11 and 5, respectively.
Quarterback Tony Romo said a lot of passes were dictated by coverage, especially the hitches and the hot reads on blitzes.
"He was out there and did a good job," Romo said. "We've got some things we've still got to work on, but it's definitely a good start for him."
Said Bryant, "It surprised me (to get that many balls). It surprised me after the game, but during the game I was just focused on doing the right things. I just went out there and played and tried to hurry up and get back to being myself as soon as possible."
Bryant hasn't had a chance to be himself since last September, when he was suspended by the NCAA for being untruthful to investigators. He went from being a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate to playing only three games as a junior. He declared for the NFL Draft and was picked 24th overall by the Cowboys.
He was limited in minicamp with ankle and hamstring injuries and then suffered the high ankle sprain just a few days into training camp, causing him to miss all the preseason games.
Against Washington, Bryant was just happy to be playing football again.
"I don't feel there was any rust," Bryant said. "I just felt nervous like any rookie. I did an OK job. It could have been better, a lot better."
Bryant said he expected to dazzle a little more with big plays, but was focused more on doing things right.
"Now that I got a little bit more confidence, things should be a lot better coming into this week," Bryant said. "Whenever you're confident and know what you're doing, big plays are a lot easier. I feel like I'm reaching that level."