It might have been easy to forget about Austin Bryant. The defensive end was placed on injured reserve right at the start of the season and was not activated until late November. His selection in the fourth round of the NFL draft out of Clemson was overshadowed by the addition of Trey Flowers and re-signing of Romeo Okwara in the same position.
As injuries have ravaged the team upfront—Flowers and defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand have both dealt with injuries this season and Damon Harrison Sr. was injured in Week 12 as well—Bryant’s return to action could not have come at a better time.
The rookie made his NFL debut on Sunday in the Lions 19-16 loss to Washington. While the game will certainly prove to be the low point of the team’s season—maybe even the lowest point in the Matt Patricia era—it was personally a special day for Bryant.
“You dream of having a moment to play in the league, and to get it today was really cool,” Bryant said after the game.
Moments as special as this can be hard for someone to truly wrap their head around. Thousands of football players around the country dream of the chance to take the field in an NFL game, actually realizing that goal can send a player into a whirlwind of emotions.
“Definitely excited, nervous, anxious all of that,” Bryant said about his emotional state entering his first ever game, but in the end he was calm because it was all familiar to him. “It’s football at the end of the day. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
Bryant is being eased into the action in Detroit. He mainly featured on third downs on Sunday as a member of the team’s Nascar pass rushing package. He ended the game without making any impact on the box score, but he finally dipped his toes into NFL action. He should only get better from here.
“This an entirely different league,” the rookie said on sunday. “Everybody’s a good player, everybody's a grown man. You gotta bring it every play. That was an adjustment.”
Another big adjustment the rookie will have to make is to losing. Bryant played for a Clemson Tigers team that went 15-0 in 2018 and won the National Championship in dominant fashion. Only twice over the course of the entire season did a team even manage finish within 20 points of the Tigers.
Now in Detroit he is joining a team with a losing record. The Lions have lost seven games in 2019, while the rookie lost a total of three games over the course of his four years in college. He has gone from the predator to the prey. Adjusting to losing is easier for Bryant when he knows that he is on the same page as the rest of his team, though.
“We all have the same goal, we wanna win. So we go to work every weekend and try to do that on Sunday,” he said. “That’s what we gotta do this time. Go back to the drawing board, practice, get ready for Thursday”
Thursday is a special day for the rookie. Not only is it his second career NFL game, but it will be his first time playing in the Lions’ historical classic Thanksgiving game. It will also be his first taste of divisional action in the Black and Blue NFC North as the Lions take on the Chicago Bears.
“I’ve always played football on Thanksgiving but it was usually practice,” Bryant said. “But playing a game is a cool experience so I’m looking forward to it.”
Detroit may be shorthanded once again at defensive end on Thanksgiving. Bryant may be thrust into a bigger role, and he will have a chance to truly show what he’s got at the NFL level. The defensive end is finally back from injury, and he could be exactly what Detroit’s fledgling defense needs right now.