Bryant expecting big things for himself, Bengals

By Zac Jackson
Fox Sports Ohio
May 25, 2010

CINCINNATI — Antonio Bryant won’t say if he believes he’s in the prime of his star-crossed career.

But with Carson Palmer now leading his huddle and Chad Ochocinco due to quit dancing and resume running routes before long, Bryant thinks he’s got the prime spot to find out.

The Bengals’ big-ticket free-agent has been the new guy in camp before, but it’s been a long while since he’s been on a team with expectations this high. The team’s expectations for Bryant are pretty high, too, as he’s a physical, polished and experienced receiver — just the kind of guy the Bengals could have used to remedy their offensive struggles towards the end of last season.

“I chose the Bengals because of the interest they had in me and what was already here,” Bryant said. “You see Carson, you see Chad, you see (a 1,200-yard) back (Cedric Benson) and now you see me. That’s the base formula.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to come plug into the situation. I’m just a part of it. Chad being here, that’s great. I don’t need to be the man. I’m here to make plays. We’re going to make plays and we’re going to help the younger guys out. When everybody starts clicking, that’s how you win championships.”

Spoken like a guy with a little maturity, and — the Bengals hope — lots of football in front of him. They signed him to a four-year deal worth $28 million at the outset of free agency in hopes that he’ll be the catch-and-run weapon Palmer seemed to be missing in 2009 after T.J. Houshmandzadeh left for Seattle.

The Bengals are Bryant’s fifth NFL team. His previous stops included a disappointing stay in Dallas, his first 1,000-yard season in Cleveland, run-ins with the law, anger-management issues and the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, and a huge 2008 season in Tampa Bay that led to a big payday last fall as he played as the Bucs’ franchise player. But he was never happy or fully healthy, and his numbers shrunk on a struggling offense.

He comes to Cincinnati thinking beyond the 83 catches, 1,248 yards and 7 touchdowns he posted in 2008.
                                                  
“I want to be better than that,” Bryant said. “I know I can be. With all the weapons on this offense and the type of quarterback Carson is, it’s a real opportunity for me to be better.

“We’ll see, but it’s good for me right now. The game has really slowed down. I can adapt. I know what’s expected of me. This is definitely an elite team and it has to be to win this division again.”

The Bengals have never been afraid of a little baggage, and in Bryant they see a guy who’s 29 but still might have upside. Bryant won the Biletnikoff Award at the nation’s top collegiate receiver as a sophomore at Pitt and said he “really activated” his career after being traded to the Browns at midseason in 2004. But when signing with San Francisco didn’t work out for himself or the team in 2006, he was out of the league for a year before posting those big numbers with Tampa Bay.

He’s listed at 6-foot-1, 205, and might be bigger than that. He’s quick and savvy enough to get open underneath coverages and too strong for many defensive backs to handle in one-on-one situations. There are many reasons Palmer has been spending extra time helping Bryant get acclimated with his new surroundings and offensive scheme.

“He’s picking up the offense very well,” Palmer said. “He creates mismatches with his size and speed and catches the ball effortlessly. I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen.”

“Carson keeps reminding me the repetitions are the most important thing,” Bryant said. “We have to get them right now, lay the foundation. That’s what us going to get us on the same page and consistently making the plays we know we can.

“I won’t say I’m in my prime. I won’t say what’s going to happen this year. I’m just saying I like what I see, and I think we’re going to bring defenses a lot of problems.”