For Detroit Lions defensive end Austin Bryant, it’s been an injury-plagued start to his NFL career but things are starting to come together in 2022 and he is making the most of this year’s training camp.
Injured in his senior season at Clemson (ankle, pectoral), Bryant fell to the fourth round before he was selected by the Lions with pick No. 117 overall. He spent the first half of his rookie year on injured reserve (shoulder) and wasn’t able to find the field until the final four games of the regular season. Unfortunately, he re-injured his pectoral in the season finale and opened the 2020 season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, where he remained for the first half of his second season. When he did return, a thigh injury would cost him another three games.
Heading into year three, with the new Brad Holmes-Dan Campbell regime in place, Bryant’s thigh injury lingered and he once again opened up training camp on the PUP, but this time, he was able to get healthy during training camp and was ready for the start of the season. Bryant’s shoulder injury did show up again in 2021, but it only cost him one game, and for the most part, he was healthy for 14 games—four more than he played in the previous two years combined.
This offseason, Bryant is entering his fourth season in the NFL and the final year of his contract. While he seems to be in a much better spot health-wise, the competition at his position has gone up significantly. Not only did the Lions retain Charles Harris after a breakout season, but the team also drafted three edge rushers, including Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 2 overall pick.
With nine pass rushers on the roster, Bryant would have to take every opportunity available in order to stand out from the group. He caught a bit of a break with Romeo Okwara and Josh Paschal likely starting the season on PUP, but he still had several obstacles in his way and would need to prove himself on the practice field in training camp.
If you’ve been following our coverage throughout training camp, or even just occasionally glancing at one of our observation articles, you’ve likely seen Bryant discussed in a positive light because he’s flashed all camp.
“(I’ve) made some plays,” Bryant humbly said on Thursday. “It’s been good. Did a lot for my confidence, still got a long way to go though. Shoot, it’s just preseason week 2. We got a lot left to do, the roster’s not made yet, so got a lot to do.”
Bryant’s downplaying himself a bit by saying “some plays” because there have been several practices where he has been credited with multiple sacks. Now, most of his work has come against the Lions’ second-team offensive line, but you can’t fault him for beating the man across from him, regardless of who that is.
This week, with joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts on the docket, Bryant figured to be tested, but once again, he showed up in a big way, registering another three-sack day on Thursday.
“I think it just comes with experience,” Bryant said about his recent success. “I’m going into my fourth year. You all know my story, I’ve dealt with injuries. I finally got a good two offseasons of being healthy. I’m finally in a scheme where I feel it fits how I liked to play. Finally in a culture where I get to work hard, have fun, and be ourselves. I think it’s just been the fruits of that process.”
The Lions still have two more preseason games and two more rounds of roster cuts to get through before the 53-man roster is established, but Bryant has put himself in a terrific position to not only make the team but be a regular contributor in the pass rushing rotation.
In order for Bryant to accomplish this, he’ll need to finish the preseason strong, but he recognizes this and is appreciative of the opportunity in front of him.
“I’m just grateful for this year,” Bryant continued, “grateful to be in this position, and hopefully, (I can) give the city something to be proud about.”
With the Lions planning on resting their starters for the second preseason game this Saturday, look for Bryant to get a lot of playing time, and potentially solidify his role moving forward.