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Antonio Bryant, who didn't play in preseason, is ready to infuse a passion for winning.

Cowboys coach Wade Phillips watched a good deal of the Bucs' preseason film, and the absence of receiver Antonio Bryant on his screen was glaring.

But Phillips still has a good idea of what to expect from Bryant, who missed the entire preseason after left knee surgery for a meniscus tear.

"They're going to get him the ball like they did last year," Phillips said matter-of-factly Wednesday. "I think that's going to jump-start their offense for them."

As for the notion that inaction might prohibit Bryant from having a big day when the teams meet Sunday? "That's overblown," Phillips said.

In fact, the question this week at One Buc Place is more whether Bryant can match or exceed his production of 2008, when he posted career highs in receiving yards (1,248), touchdowns (seven) and receptions (83) and was named comeback player of the year.

With more offensive weapons lined up beside him this season, it stands to reason that Bryant's role might change.

Or will it?

In 2008, no one envisioned the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Bryant as the team's No. 1 receiving option, his offseason signing after getting no offers in 2007 generating few headlines. Yet by season's end, he had become so invaluable that the Bucs designated him their franchise player, earning Bryant a one-year salary of $9.88 million.

Bryant, 28, was seeking a long-term contract, and remains determined to prove he deserves one. But other than dollar figures, he hasn't spent much time dwelling on numbers, with one possible exception: wins.

In Bryant's mind, if the Bucs win, he'll get his.

"It's not just about me proving something," he said. "It's about all the guys understanding where we stand in the eyes of other people. It's just something we can aim toward to change a lot of these opinions and win some of these games. We were a nine-win team last year.

"You have teams that were (poor) teams many years in a row and people expect them to have turnaround years. Then, you have a team that's coming off nine victories and nobody expects you to do anything? It's counter-logical."

For years, Bryant has tried to live down his reputation as a selfish player. For instance, a publicized outburst in Dallas that led to a run-in with then-coach Bill Parcells (and his trade in 2004 by the team that took him in the second round of the 2002 draft out of Pittsburgh) had more to do with what he perceived to be a lack of effort from teammates. He prefers to be surrounded by players who are as passionate about winning as he is.

"I don't think (Bryant) cares about his numbers," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "I think A.B. cares about wins. Antonio is not a selfish player. He's far from that. Those types of guys get selfish when they feel they can make a difference on when we're not getting it done."

To that end, Bryant is doing his best to influence his teammates.

"I have my own state of mind," he said. "... I'm going to try to do all the things so I can pull my teammates' backs against the wall (with me) and make them feel what I feel. That's the type of energy I'm expressing."

So, whether it's Bryant or somebody else who has a big day, he cares more about the result.

"I look at it like this: I don't mind being the centerpiece," Bryant said. "I didn't ask to do that. I just performed. That's how I'm going to approach it. I want to go out on stage saying we're all centerpieces."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.

Up next

Bucs vs. Cowboys, 1 p.m.Sunday, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa. TV/radio:Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM. Line: Cowboys by 6

nfl opener tonight: Titans at Steelers, 8:30. TV/radio: Ch.8; 1010-AM. Line: Steelers by 6