Lions' Austin Bryant embraces 'process' as he works to carve out role on new-look D-line
Allen Park — The flip side to effective roster building in the NFL is that when you add a new piece to the puzzle, whether through free agency or the draft, it likely means another player needs to be cast aside.
So after the Detroit Lions re-signed Charles Harris this offseason, then drafted Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal in the first and second rounds, it was easy to look at the roster and wonder if there was still a place for a guy like Austin Bryant.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2019 for the franchise's previous leadership regime, Bryant struggled with injury issues his first two seasons, which limited him to appearing in just 10 of a possible 32 games.
Things definitely went better last season. Playing in 14 games, he more than doubled his snap count from the previous two campaigns combined, while tallying 31 tackles and the first 4.5 sacks of his career.
That development was undoubtedly promising, but with the incoming additions, as well as the eventual return of Romeo Okwara (Achilles), who led the team in sacks in 2020, it's unclear how Bryant would fit into the picture going forward.
But after a week of training camp, the question is less about does Bryant still fit, but rather how can the Lions not find a way to keep him? Simply put, his daily playmaking production has been difficult to ignore, and he's looking more and more like a piece the team needs to find a way to retain and play.
Primarily working with the second-team defense, behind Harris and Hutchinson, Bryant has been a relentless force, routinely working his way into the backfield and racking up sacks and tackles for loss. And when he's not getting to the quarterback, he's finding a way to get his hands into the passing lanes, altering throws as well as knocking a handful down before they cross the line of scrimmage.
Bryant isn't eager to tout his early success. Perhaps humbled by the start-stop nature of his first few seasons, he's taking everything in stride and focusing on maintaining the momentum.
"I think it's a process," Bryant said. "Man, look, we're just a week into camp. So nobody's made the team yet, the roster's not set, we haven't even played a preseason game. So man, I'm just taking it day-by-day, and enjoying this process."
Bryant said he's been working on discovering the best version of himself, and for arguably the first time since he's been in the NFL, he's healthy enough to do that. He spent the offseason working with former Clemson teammates Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins trying to unlock that version and the results are undeniably showing up on the field to start Bryant's fourth training camp in Detroit.
"I've come a long way," Bryant said. "I don't think I'm a finished product yet, but I've come a long way from where I started. And I'm so grateful to God and I'm grateful for the people who have helped me become what I'm becoming and still in the process of being. Man, I'm just grateful for this process. That's what's most important is the process, not the destination."
As for Detroit's additions that have seemingly moved him to the roster bubble, Bryant isn't bitter, and he's not even using them as motivation. Instead, he's thrilled they're here, pushing him, and hopefully the team to new levels of success.
"Man, I'm glad we drafted Aidan," Bryant said. "We needed a player like that. I love Charles, we needed a player like that. If we're going to be the defense we want to be, we can't be selfish. And in my mind, I'm just as good as those guys.
"So I don't see it as a competition," Bryant continued. "I see it as me contributing to this team, helping my teammates, feeding off my teammates. I love those guys to death. They are great players. But I believe I'm a great player, too. All of us together, our defensive line can form a great unit and be a Detroit defense that people haven't seen before."