By: Will Burchfield
It’s a risk-reward proposition for a first-place team.
Do the Lions activate defensive end Armonty Bryant for Sunday’s clash with the Panthers? Bryant had three sacks in five games last season, and the Lions’ pass rush could use more weapons.
Or do they keep him on the sideline until he proves he can stay out of trouble? Bryant just finished serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy in the offseason, his third such suspension in the last two years.
He returned to practice this week, but Jim Caldwell hasn’t given any indication as to whether the Lions will activate him for Sunday’s game.
“We’ll see,” Caldwell said on Friday. “We’ll see what happens.”
The Lions claimed Bryant off waivers from the Browns last season, finding themselves in a similar situation to the one they’re in now. They knew Bryant had baggage — dating back to college, when he was caught selling weed — but they also knew he had talent.
Shortly after he joined the Lions, he spoke with team higher-ups about getting his act together.
“Quite a bit,” he said. “That’s my goal. Clean up my act a little bit. But that’s just the past. I’m just here to help the team win.”
Bryant did that in limited action — Detroit went 4-1 in the five games in which he played — and the Lions brought him back on a show-me deal: $855,000 over one year, with just $40,000 guaranteed.
The team needed Bryant to prove, once and for all, that he could stay on the field. His third drug-related suspension came down two months later.
Of the 16 games he’s been a member of the Lions, Bryant has been suspended for eight. He’s a force when he’s out there, but can the team trust him with a spot on the 53-man roster?
“I can just tell you that there’s always, I think, an opportunity to help make a difference in a guy’s life. And certain guys you just have to sense that they’ve made a couple mistakes, but haven’t we all?” Caldwell said. “I’m always one that believes in working with people and trying to get them to where we’d like them to be, and move from there. But every case is different.”
Bryant’s case is different because a) he’s good, and b) he fills a team need. He’s 6’4, 245 pounds and as fast as he is strong. Caldwell said he’s “getting back to his old self” based on what he’s shown in practice this week.
“I’m talking about getting up to speed in terms of all the things that he’s responsible for doing. Stopping the run, being an effective guy, taking care of his gap, rushing the passer, all those kinds of things. He’s moving in that direction,” said Caldwell.
It’s a tricky situation, and the question is this: Can Bryant channel his “old self” without, well, channeling his old self? Caldwell wouldn’t say whether or not the Lions have considered a zero-tolerance policy for the troubled defensive end.
But if they Lions believe Bryant has turned the corner, expect him to be on the field Sunday.