What a difference a year makes. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys handled running back Felix Jones with white gloves and didn't allow him to return kicks. Wide receiver Dez Bryant got the same treatment after a Week 1 thigh injury—he was taken off punt return duties.
Dallas' executive vice-president Stephen Jones made the team's plans for Jones and Bryant clear on day one of the Cowboys' training camp.
“That’s really going to really do wonders for our kicking game and really let them work on it from the get-go,” Stephen Jones said. “Obviously we weren’t doing that with Felix last year because he was our starting running back and we weren’t doing it with Dez. This year I think that’s going to make a big difference. Both those guys were tops coming out of college and I think when they work on it every day and work with [special teams coach] Joe [DeCamillis] every day on it it’s going to make a big difference on our special teams.”
It's obvious why the Cowboys are throwing Felix to the wolves. He drastically failed his audition as the team's No. 1 running back last season and has become expendable. At the end of last season, DeMarco Murray took a stranglehold on the starting running back position.
Bryant's new-found duty of returning punts may have more inconspicuous surroundings. After Bryant suffered his thigh injury last season in Week 1 against the Jets, the team took him out of harm's way. With Bryant's continuing offseason mishaps—including an incident involving hitting his mother—he has become a distraction in Dallas.
Cowboys brass may just be fed up with the promising wideout and willing to risk his health for the benefit he provides on the return team. Whatever the case may be, Jones and Bryant are now entrenched as the return specialists for the Cowboys, something they were protected from last season.