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This summer, Kyle Orton wasn’t necessarily believing the hype surrounding freshman receiver Dorien Bryant.
The quarterback knew, like everyone else, that the rookie was faster than sunlight, but at the same time Orton was surprisingly candid in openly questioning whether Bryant could consistently catch the football, a hurdle that would have been a major roadblock for Bryant in his hopes to get on the field this fall.
Well, Orton’s questions have been answered. Bryant is relatively small, but he’s become a huge part of the Boilermaker offense.
Bryant has caught 18 passes — third most on the team — through six games, for 271 yards and a touchdown. He’s averaging 15.1 yards per catch.
He caught six passes for 68 yards against Wisconsin Saturday, as Orton seems to be growing ever more comfortable looking the freshman’s way.
"His hands have been a surprise to me," Orton said. "Everyone knew about his speed, but he really struggled (in the summer) catching the football, but that was just him getting used to his new environment and teammates."
While on campus this summer, Bryant did struggle to catch Orton’s seemingly rocket-powered pass, so he asked backup Brandon Kirsch to help. Kirsch winged footballs at Bryant as hard as he could from just seven or eight yards out. Some of Bryant’s fingers are still sore, months later.
It paid off, and helped Bryant thoroughly impress during training camp, when the coaches made certain the former blue-chip recruit would be a part of the offense in 2004.
How big a part was never answered early.
It was clear the coaches wanted to use Bryant, but you had to wonder if it wouldn’t be as just kind of a "gimmick," only to be use on certain plays, like for bubble screens or reverses.
Bryant’s been used in both capacities, but also has become an every-down, all-over-the-field sort of receiver, which has been a pleasant surprise for him.
"Through camp, I thought maybe I’d get the ball a little bit," Bryant said, "but I also thought ‘Maybe this isn’t my year; maybe I’ll have to wait a little bit.’"
In his college debut against Syracuse, Bryant got the ball in his hands three times. The following week against Ball State, he had five touches, including his first touchdown, not to mention a 53-yard kickoff return. Against Notre Dame, he virtually ran wild, just two catches for 78 yards. At Penn State he made one of the biggest plays of the game, when he turned a short completion from the scrambling Orton into a 17-yard gain to convert a key third-and-14 late in the game.
"To know Kyle has that confidence in me, that gives me confidence," Bryant said, "and that makes it easier."
Bryant exudes confidence, both in the way he carries himself and speaks, in addition to the way he plays. Often finding himself tip-toeing the sideline on his catches, Bryant refuses to run out-of-bounds, uncharacteristic of most skinny 175-pound youngsters.
The New Jersey native has also been a key contributor on special teams, where his wheels have helped him make a couple of tackles in kickoff coverage. The day could soon come where Bryant is also returning punts.
Right now, though, Bryant is still a major part of Purdue's offense, and his role will only grow as he continues to learn the Boilermakers’ complicated scheme. He credits Tiller, receivers coach Bob DeBesse, Orton and senior receiver Taylor Stubblefield for helping him along and having confidence in him. Stubblefield, Bryant said, has been instrumental in helping his new understudy improve his route-running.
"(The offense) is pretty complex," Bryant said. "But all through camp, they gave me all the base stuff, then as the season’s gone on, they’ve added all the tags they put on the routes. They’ve spoon-fed me a lot. I don’t think I know the whole offense, but I know what we run on Saturdays."
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