Let's face it: If the Cowboys are going to be anything but mediocre in 2011, Dez Bryant has to be effective. And to be effective, he's first got to be healthy.
Bryant caught three passes for 71 yards early against the Jets, then disappeared in the game's final 52 minutes. Cramps on a 70-degree night. Then a bruised leg suffered on a punt return. By the fourth quarter he couldn't run, couldn't jump. NBC's Cris Collinsworth tagged him a "liability".
But he's right. Nothing against Miles Austin, but if Dez is a decoy, the Cowboys are doomed.
He's now been injured in his last two NFL games: Breaking his ankle last December against the Colts and bruising his quad last Sunday night in New York. Both came on kick returns.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys are fools if they don't have the dangerous Dez returning kicks this week in San Francisco ... and beyond.
Why? Because there were a record eight kick returns for touchdowns in the NFL's opening weekend and I don't see anyone on Dallas' roster that can take it to the house other than the current 88. You?
DeMarco Murray produced the most tentative kickoff return in the history of the franchise, running with all the abandon of a barefoot guy navigating broken glass. Rookie Dwayne Harris' two punt returns totaled a whopping 17 yards.
Dallas needs Dez.
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And owner Jerry Jones says -- despite the injuries on special teams -- that his team will get him. He said Tuesday that Bryant will be used on returns "judiciously," not unlike the way the Cowboys implemented Deion Sanders in the '90s.
Translation: Late in the game. Or any time an opponent is backed up inside its 20 and the punt will be fielded around midfield. Where Deion excelled (four punt-return touchdowns from '97 to '99), so can Dez. Last season he returned 15 punts, two for touchdowns.
Kick returns don't exactly win Super Bowls -- the returners on Dallas' five Super Bowl teams have been Cliff Harris (VI), Butch Johnson (XII), Kelvin Martin (XXVII) and Kevin Williams (XXVIII, XXX) -- but Dallas needs every advantage it can get this season.
For the Cowboys to contend for the post-season, Tony Romo can't commit late-game blunders. And Dez Bryant has to make positive plays on kick returns.