Hard nose


Antonio Bryant

Updated: 7:30 p.m.

The Antonio Bryant of Friday sounds like the Antonio Bryant of a scouting report from a guy that worked with him during his rookie year in Dallas in 2002.

"Very intense. Very serious about the game," the man said of Bryant shortly after the Bengals signed him to a four-year deal this week. "At some point in training camp after a defensive back has had his hands all over him, he's going to come up swinging. He won't back down. He's got a mean streak, and that's a good thing because it makes him extremely competitive."

And Bryant hasn't backed down in his brief time here. When he met with Bengals president Mike Brown and much of the football staff during his visit Tuesday he opened up about his controversial past. Then, in his Cincinnati media debut Friday on a conference call with the locals, he couldn't hide his excitement about bringing his hard-nosed style to a stable defending division champion.

"Football is a testosterone sport. It's not ballet, know what I mean?" Bryant asked. "I'm an edgy guy. I'm very edgy, but I think every player has to have some type of edge. That's what defines your competitive nature and how you approach the game. I'm a little bit more physical than probably what they're used to. You have to have each side of the scale to balance out the situation in the offense. I know there's a lot of ins and outs in the offense and what I can do is bring a little more toughness to the game."

Bryant, who turned 29 during his PBS visit, sounded like it was a birthday present just being on a team that has had the same coach and quarterback for two straight years, never mind seven. He recounted how in his eight seasons he's never had the same head coach in back-to-back seasons and what a pleasure it is for him that quarterback Carson Palmer has been in the same system for seven years.

"It's always easy to go out and perform when you're wanted as opposed to just being there to be there. Also, the situation (was attractive)," Bryant said. "You've got a dominant team that played well enough to be in the playoffs and hopefully I can be an addition as well as some guys to further that success. ... I've been on teams that we were just out there competing because that's what we had to do. Now I feel like I'm on a team in a situation where people are eager and talking about going further in the postseason."

Bengals receivers coach Mike Sheppard, who breakfasted with Bryant on Tuesday, came away extremely impressed with how he understood the team concept, a key element for Sheppard because "Marvin (Lewis) and Mike have done a great job shaping the roster with guys like that," he said.

"The nice thing is that this is a guy that came in and got the job," Sheppard said. "He wanted to be here. He came after this job and I think that has to be a big part of it."

Bryant wanted it because he has never been close to a situation like this in the NFL. On the call he ticked off most of the names of the head coaches he's had in eight seasons. Including interims, the number is eight. And quarterbacks?

"We always had three and not because of injuries but that's because that was the situation," he said.

His best quarterback has been Jeff Garcia. He's never had running mate like six-time Pro Bowl wideout Chad Ochocinco. Bryant made it very clear he knows what is going on here and why the Bengals ran the ball as much as they did in '09.

"They lost two tight ends. That's very hard. Every tight end plays key roles on these teams at the end of the day. That kind of put them in the predicament to want to run more," Bryant said. "They also lost some receivers. I know (Andre) Caldwell went down. I know Chris Henry went down. It puts you in a predicament where Chad was getting double coverage, so you have to bring in guys that are going to alleviate that problem.

"I know Ced Benson did a great job running the ball. I caught a lot of highlights of him running the ball. If we can get that same production out of our running game and we add some threats in the receiver end, we'll be able to open up some things for Chad and the other guys and they can get back to balancing their offense out."

If it sounds like Bryant knows and enjoys football, it's because he does. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski had him holed up for about three hours in front of the chalk board Tuesday and observed Friday, "He's a guy that obviously knows and enjoys his craft." But Bryant says he has to be there on the first day of the offseason workouts (March 29) because he's behind everyone else in knowing the offense.

It is that emotion that haunted Bryant as a young player and the emotion that he addressed during Tuesday and the emotion the Bengals hope he has tamed.

He supposedly flipped a towel at Cowboys coach Bill Parcells in a 2004 spring practice and got run out of Dallas in a trade. He compounded his problems when he was arrested for suspicion of drunken driving and resisting arrest during the 2006 season in San Francisco even though he says he didn't have a drink that night. Those charges were dropped for lack of evidence, according to Yahoo.com, but he got fined for reckless driving and was suspended for four games.

The Niners then cut him after the season, in part, for a bumpy relationship with rookie quarterback Alex Smith. When he failed a drug test in '07 while he was out of the league (a move that Bryant fought in court and was later resolved privately) his rep was sealed.

But it should be noted that he says he's patched it up with Parcells and then-Niners coach Mike Nolan has come to his defense. Bryant was upset in those '04 practices that the newly-acquired Keyshawn Johnson was getting all the reps and he felt the Cowboys were not coming through on their promise to play the best players. In Frisco, he was frustrated with Smith's ability to pick up the offense. His defenders say it is his passion about football that got him in those jams.

"He was the best receiver we had in San Francisco in the time I was here," Nolan told Yahoo.com. "Looking back on it, I actually made a mistake in letting him go. I think I put too much blame on Antonio, as far as his relationship with the quarterback.

"As it turns out, it was not all his doing. I blamed him for more than he should have been blamed for. There's no question he was making more effort than I was made aware of. I truly regret that."

Bryant gladly took on the issues when the Bengals asked.

"I'm my best lawyer," Bryant said. "I always look forward to the opportunity to interview. I sat in there with Mr. Brown and I literally sat in front of everybody that has anything to do with that team. I made myself known. I stood up in front of everybody and addressed the situation with everybody on staff there. Which I'm not afraid to do because I do believe in me. I'm just being myself and just being honest."

And he responded with his career year in '08 (83 balls and nearly 1,300 yards) with Tampa Bay to win The Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year. A knee scope in training camp and another quarterback carousel last year brought the numbers down, but he has to be thinking what he can do with Palmer and The Ocho if he did that with Garcia and Ike Hilliard.

"I thank God for the past because if it wasn't for the '07 Antonio sitting at home out of work there wouldn't have been an '08 Antonio," Bryant said. "Even being able to go out there and play on one leg and do what I did in '09. I'm glad that occurred. Everything that has happened to me in my past has got me to where I am now. I hope I can end on a good note and chase one of those rings."

Bryant may not be into ballet, but it sounds like he's going to be able to dance with Ochocinco, a fellow Miami product he knows from hanging out at the same places and knowing some of the same people. Bryant says The Ocho texted him right away even before the visit as he felt out how Ochocinco would feel about a new guys on his turf: "He's pretty much got that mentality that we carry in Miami and that's a champion mentality and that what it's all about."

Told that The Ocho may think its ballet now that he's on Dancing With The Stars, Bryant could see the connection.

"When you're playing, I was always told it's best to hear elevator music as opposed to a rock band when you're playing the game," he said. "That means it slows down for you. Everything moves a little slower to you, but faster than the people adjusting."

It sounds like they are going to try and make some beautiful music together.

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