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Cowboys WR Bryant has surgery on fractured ankle

IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant has been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped this rookie season: dazzling as a receiver, dynamic as a kick returner. Their only disappointment is that his rookie season is done four games early.

Bryant broke his right ankle returning a kickoff during Sunday's overtime victory at Indianapolis. He underwent surgery Monday to repair broken bones and ligament damage and will need up to four months of rehabilitation.

"He's going to come back bigger and better than ever," interim coach Jason Garrett said. "He just continues to grow (as a player). You feel badly that he's not going to have these last four games to continue that development, but there's no question that he's made great strides."

Nobody questioned Bryant's talent coming out of Oklahoma State, but questions about his character and lifestyle caused him to slip in the draft.

The Cowboys thought those things were overblown and gladly traded up to grab him with the 24th pick. Team owner Jerry Jones immediately tabbed him as a future superstar and gave him No. 88, the jersey worn by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin and, a generation earlier, by Drew Pearson.

Bryant sent a message about his willingness to play by becoming the first first-rounder to sign. He drew raves from the start of training camp, but missed the preseason because of a high ankle sprain.

Other injuries slowed him this season, but he never came out of the lineup. He finished his first season with 45 catches for 561 yards and six touchdowns. He scored two more touchdowns on punt returns. There have been only seven punts returned for TDs in the NFL this season, and he and Devin Hester each have two.

His average of 14.3 yards per punt return is fourth among guys with at least 10 tries. His 24.4 yards per kickoff return is 11th among players with at least 10 tries.

He's second among all rookie receivers in catches, yards and touchdowns.

"I think if he'd have stayed healthy, he would have the chance to maybe get the Rookie of the Year award," receivers coach Ray Sherman said. "He's one of the very few rookies I've ever seen step in who has no fear, just ready to go right from the beginning."

Numbers alone don't show the impact Bryant had this season. Teams didn't want him to beat them, so they assigned two defenders to him. That helped open things up for other players.

Special-teams captain Sam Hurd and Kevin Ogletree will get more time at receiver over the final month, but they won't provide the same kind of threat.

Ogletree came on strong late last season, his rookie year, but Bryant's success has made him a forgotten man. He's been active for only five games and hasn't caught a pass.

The Cowboys (4-8) have been questioned for letting such a valuable player return kicks because of exactly what happened -- it makes him vulnerable to getting hurt. But Garrett pointed out that Bryant's ability as a returner was part of why Dallas wanted him.

"He was the best returner coming out in the draft, and we thought he was the best receiver coming out in the draft, so we wanted to make sure we used both of those abilities that he has," Garrett said. "You never want to put guys in precarious positions, but that's a part of what he does."

Sherman said he hopes Bryant can maintain his weight while recovering and that he expects him to spend the offseason getting stronger and becoming "a better receiver, being a better route-runner, being a more-disciplined route-runner, just having an overall understanding of what he needs to do."

"Usually, that's what happens with young guys," Sherman said. "After you go through a season and then the next year, you have an idea of what to do. He'll have an idea."

Quarterback Jon Kitna has been giving Bryant words of wisdom since the summer. What advice is the 38-year-old, 14-year veteran passing along now?

"When you're given the opportunity to give your body rest, you need to take the opportunity to let it rest and heal, because it just doesn't come along very often," Kitna said. "It's hard to do, especially as a young guy. You want to constantly push the envelope. But you've got to stay on schedule, be disciplined with the trainers and stuff. He's going to be fine."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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