Wide receiver Antonio Bryant spoke to the media for the first time as a Buccaneer on Monday. Bryant was out of the NFL during the 2007 season and is hoping to make the Buccaneers 2008 roster. In previous stints with the Cowboys, Browns, and 49ers Bryant displayed playmaking talent, but also had problems in the locker room and off the field.
Bryant has had well-documented verbal confrontations with Dallas coach Bill Parcells and San Francisco coach Mike Nolan, but says he has learned from his past mistakes.
“Listen first,” Bryant said. “Listen first. Listen first. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Every day rookies ask me – they think I’ve got wisdom, so they ask me – what is the word today, and I give them something.”
And if Bucs head coach Jon Gruden wants him to do something a certain way if Bryant doesn’t necessarily agree with him?
“I’m going to do it his way first,” Bryant said with a smile. “Like I tell [wide receivers] Coach [Richard] Mann, ‘I’ll try it. I’ll try it your way.’ That’s the thing about being a competitor and that’s what separates us as athletes. What can you bring to the table? What little extra can you do? Everybody can catch a ball a certain, particular way, but there are only a few people that can do it extraordinary.”
When asked about Parcells, Bryant said he does not care to discuss him any more.
“I’m not really worried about his [opinion] because I play and he can’t,” Bryant said. "I have more control over that than he does, so I’m going to capitalize where I can in those areas and let it speak for itself.
“[This situation] is a good thing. They forget that you know how to play. It’s almost like re-introducing myself. It’s my version of me and not what everybody thinks of me.”
If Bryant can elude defensive backs as masterfully as he has eluded the media since his arrival in Tampa Bay last spring, he could be something special for the Buccaneers, who are searching for a playmaking player to line up opposite Joey Galloway in 2008.
“I love that,” Bryant said about his comeback has been kept under the radar thus far. “That’s the best part about it, and that’s another reason why I don’t talk to [the media] because you all will tell everybody. I’m just trying to keep things to myself.”
Bryant, 27, last played in 2006 for the San Francisco 49ers and had to sit out part of the 2007 campaign to serve a league suspension due to substance abuse. So what did he do in his year away from football while he rehabbed his knee injury?
“What did I do last year? I just sat on my butt,” Bryant said. “You can still feel your body trying to mend itself back together. This is a rough sport. You go out there and take blows and you deliver blows. I kind of feel like it was a plus and it was a minus [not being on an NFL roster]. But it evened itself out.”
Once his knee was healthy, Bryant did work out with track star Michael Johnson in Dallas to regain his playing form.
For his career Bryant has 250 receptions for 3,837 yards and 19 touchdowns. His best season came in 2005 for Cleveland when he caught 69 passes for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns.
The Pittsburgh product was a teammate of Bucs quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Luke McCown in Cleveland in 2004. Center Jeff Faine was also on that team. At 6-foot-2, 188-pounds Bryant has a nice combination of size and speed. If Bryant displays maturation off the field and production on the field the Buccaneers may have found a potential weapon for the passing game.
“Antonio is a great physical talent,” McCown said. “Once we get him completely up to speed with the offense and things like that he is going to be one hell of a player.”
Gruden has been equally impressed with Bryant’s start at training camp.
“He just had some cramps yesterday,” Gruden said of Bryant. “He’s struggling a little bit from the staindpoint that he’s trying to cross-train right now. We’re really pleased with him. He’s done an excellent job. When you’re trying to play the split-end position for the first three months and trying to kick over and play flanker, there can be some wires crossed.”
The Buccaneers have a crowded group at wide receiver. Competing with Bryant is Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, Chad Lucas, Paris Warren, Micheal Spurlock, Brian Clark, Cortez Hankton, and second-round pick Dexter Jackson.
“In this offense and knowing the variables and what is in the air as far as being a receiver, it’s a great opportunity,” Bryant said. “It’s a great shot. To know that every day you are going out and honestly being evaluated – there is no lock. We know Joey Galloway is a lock. You don’t have to sit here and discuss that. But there are other positions where we need guys to do this and do that.
“Do I have doubts about [making the team]? I’m a competitor. That’s what I’m here for. If I didn’t feel that way I wouldn’t be here.”
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com