BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Desmond Bryant is savoring every snap, knowing the next one could be his last.
He can’t forget those long days he spent last summer in the trainer’s room, where he endured grueling rehab sessions with doubts about the future filling his head.
Bryant, who underwent surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat in 2013, knows how quickly it can all be taken away. That’s why the Browns defensive lineman isn’t missing anything.
“I’m going to cherish every moment while I’m here,” he said.
Sidelined by a serious chest injury he sustained while working out last July, Bryant missed the entire 2016 season and watched as his teammates staggered to a 1-15 record. But the 32-year-old, is completely recovered and eager to make up for lost time as one of Cleveland’s defensive leaders.
The injury and time away has given him perspective as he embarks on another comeback.
“That’s part of this game,” he said Wednesday. “You learn at an early age that adversity is part of football. You know you’re never going to have a perfect game, so you just got to learn when you have your defeats. You have your losses, you learn how to bounce back from them.”
So far, Bryant has bounced back fine.
He’s embracing his role in new coordinator Gregg Williams’ system and Bryant is excited about playing with rookie Myles Garrett, the top overall pick who is living up to expectations.
Bryant’s enthusiasm at a new beginning is evident to his teammates, who have noticed a renewed commitment in him.
“He’s extremely humble,” said linebacker Christian Kirksey. “I can only imagine sitting out a year of playing football, especially when it’s something you love to do. I see him out here and he’s working hard whether it’s in the classroom, in the weight room, just being that leader. He’s out here having fun, and I’m extremely happy that he’s back making plays.”
Bryant was lifting weights last July when he tore his pectoral muscle so badly that it came off the bone. His recovery was physically challenging and mentally exhausting, but Bryant was determined to make it back.
He led the Browns with a career-high six sacks in 2015 and was planning an even bigger season before getting hurt. His expectations are soaring again.
“I have even more,” he said. “One of the things I tried to pride myself on is getting better each year in this league and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that and so that is definitely my goal again this year. I want to be the best player, the best Cleveland Brown I can be. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time and so I think it will be easier to do this time around.”
He’s become the elder statesman for a defensive line with massive potential. In Garrett, Danny Shelton, Emmanuel Ogbah and others, the Browns have the making of a special unit.
Bryant likes the idea of being a mentor to his younger teammates.
“I’ve already stepped into that role,” he said. “I’m definitely the elder on the D-line by a long shot, so I try to do what I can to bring along the younger guys and help coach up where I can, bring the guys together, get D-line dinners going on, stuff like that. I think that really helps the team, that bonding really helps.”
Browns coach Hue Jackson has called Bryant “one of my favorite players.” The two previously worked together in Oakland and Bryant said he and Jackson have a close relationship.
During the first week of camp, Bryant was careful not to push his injury too hard. He also wanted to be accepted again.
Now he’s past that point.
“When I first came back, I was a little bit hesitant to go out and start throwing guys around, ‘Ok, I’m the boss around here,’” he said. “I felt like I had to go on the field and prove it. We’ve had a couple of days of practice now. I went out there and made some plays and reminded everybody who forgot, the new guys who are here, who I am, and now I’ve been more vocal about things.”
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