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Browns pass rusher Armonty Bryant emerges as fast-riser in Mike Pettine's defense

Aug 26, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USATSI

The Morning Kickoff …

Accidents will happen: Armonty Bryant had a loud introduction to the NFL with two arrests before and after the 2013 draft. But now he is one of the quietest Browns.

He has a slow-and-easy gait about him when he walks off the practice field, totally opposite of the fury with which he has played the defensive end position in his second training camp with the Browns.

When Bryant sauntered into a media circle on Monday, it seemed that his mind was elsewhere. After a few vague answers about the way his rather stunning preseason is going, the subject of Sam Bradford came up and Bryant spoke directly to the St. Louis Rams quarterback through the media.

“I want to say I’m sorry and my prayers go out to you and your family,” Bryant said.

Bryant did nothing wrong on the play that ended Bradford’s season and shattered the Rams’ hopes of contending in their tough NFC West division. He beat left tackle Jake Long, as he has most offensive linemen opposing him this preseason, and made a lunge for Bradford just after Bradford delivered the ball.

Bryant’s right leg made contact with Bradford’s surgically repaired left knee, which was protected by a brace. Bryant almost instantly eased off without ever wrapping his arms around Bradford. In fact, Bryant hit the ground before Bradford did. While Bryant looked downfield for the ball, Bradford crumbled in pain.

Everyone’s worst fear was realized. Bradford’s left anterior cruciate ligament, the one repaired after an injury in the seventh game last season, was severed again. Bradford will miss another full year after rehabbing the 2013 injury for 10 months.

“I tried to, like, swing off,” Bryant said. “I guess he couldn’t lift his foot off the ground. I thought he just hyperextended his knee.

“You never want to see anything like that in the league. A season-ending injury is just terrible.”

Turning it around: Bryant’s rookie season was good (two sacks, 12 quarterback harassments in 12 games) considering he very nearly was cut before he ever signed a Browns contract.    

The Browns took a chance on the small-college pass rusher from East Central (OK) University even though he had been arrested for selling marijuana on campus to an undercover police officer.

A strong recommendation from former defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who himself had benefitted from a second chance, convinced the Joe Banner-Mike Lombardi regime to take Bryant in the seventh round. Six days after telling reporters “I won’t let anybody down,” Bryant was arrested for drunk driving in Ada, OK.

“No one wants that to happen, especially two times in, what, seven months,” Bryant said. “Definitely a life-changing experience.

“I think it just humbled me a little more. My family gets on me all the time, like, you’ve got to quit doing stupid stuff like that. To try to help them to get to a better place, I have to focus on what I need to do here.”

In need of a strong support group, Bryant has been taken under the wing of linebacker Barkevious Mingo as an off-field buddy. On the field, Bryant said he has tried to follow the example of nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin, one of the strongest characters on the team.

“I like Rubin a lot,” Bryant said. “He plays the run very well, double teams very well. I just try to see what he does and try to put that in my game a little bit.”

Who knew?: When coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer settled into their respective new jobs, the one position group they were totally satisfied with was defensive line. They added nobody there except a few undrafted free agents. Bryant initially was seen as a pass-rush specialist. But now he has played himself into a starting end position.

Injuries to Billy Winn and Desmond Bryant opened the door, and Armonty Bryant flashed through it with the speed that turned Jake Long, a former Pro Bowl tackle, into a human turnstile.

Two weeks ago, Pettine said of the 6-4, 265-pound Bryant, “Armonty is a guy who I think has a chance to be a special pass rusher in this league. He’s better against the run on early downs than maybe we thought. He’s got a very unique build. He’s very narrow. He reminds me of a slightly shorter Trevor Pryce, who we had in Baltimore and had a long career in Denver.

“I just think it’s kind of unique. He makes it tough on offensive linemen. He can kind of get through some cracks where maybe some of the bigger guys can’t. He’s very explosive with his hands. He’s real good when a lineman tries to get hands on him. He’s very good releasing off of blocks and I just think he has a knack for getting to the quarterback.”

Bryant’s defense against the run has improved enough so that Pettine now sees him sharing time when the other Bryant, Desmond, returns from a wrist injury that needed surgery.

“I thought at first that could have been an issue for him, but he’s gotten better with it,” Pettine said. “I think one of the things he does well is his initial quickness, get off. We can do some things schematically to help him, to kind of put him on the move, and not just having to anchor in and take on a double team – just kind of put him on the move and let him take advantage of his quickness.”

All of which has made Armonty Bryant one of the most positive stories of the Browns’ preseason.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling with the coaches and everyone else believing I can get the job done,” he said. “It’s just, I need to go prove myself on the field. I feel my drive. I just want to go out there and make my statement.”

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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