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5 things to know about new 49ers DL Austin Bryant

Mar 22, 2023 at 6:52 PM


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The 49ers added their third defensive lineman of free agency on Wednesday with the signing of Austin Bryant, who comes to San Francisco just days after the team added defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and defensive end Clelin Ferrell.

Bryant, 26, comes to the 49ers from the Detroit Lions, where he played for four seasons after being selected in Round 4 of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Clemson. Bryant had a history of production and winning at the college level, but he's still looking to make his mark in the NFL. Here are five things to know about Bryant as he begins his time with the 49ers.

Power Rangers reunion, of sorts


Bryant (6-5, 260) played on one of the most talented defensive lines in recent college football history while at Clemson, starting alongside Dexter Lawrence (Giants), Christian Wilkins (Dolphins), and Ferrell.

That group was nicknamed the "Power Rangers" by some, in part because they dressed up as Power Rangers for Halloween in 2018. Now two of them are together again on the 49ers after things didn't go as planned with their previous teams.

The four "Power Rangers" won two national championship rings at Clemson before joining the 2019 NFL Draft. While Lawrence, Wilkins and Ferrell were all selected in the first round, Bryant fell to the Lions at pick 117 in Round 4. Lawrence and Wilkins have established themselves as high-end NFL players, but Bryant and Ferrell are in a different place as they begin the next step of their NFL careers.

Another "reclamation project"


Like Ferrell, Bryant is a candidate to join the list of defensive linemen who were able to re-energize their careers under 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. Bryant comes to the 49ers following a disappointing four seasons with his original team, like Ferrell, with a history of various injuries.

Bryant played in 33 games (six starts) with the Lions and totaled 65 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Bryant began his rookie season on injured reserve while rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle, then started his second season on PUP due to pectoral issues once again. After playing in just ten games over his first two seasons, Bryant played in 14 games with the Lions in 2021 and totaled 31 tackles, five tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, and each of his 4.5 career sacks. But his role tapered off in 2022, as he appeared in just nine games (nine tackles) and was a healthy scratch towards the end of the season.

Bryant and Ferrell join a 49ers defensive line group that was thinned out by free agency departures, so each of them seem to stand a good chance to win a roster spot in the months ahead. Bryant joins a 49ers defensive end group that includes Ferrell, Nick Bosa, and Drake Jackson, while Samson Ebukam, and Charles Omenihu Jordan Willis were among those to leave in free agency.

Versatility


Bryant has been used in a number of ways throughout his football career. The 49ers should be able to find creative ways to use him if need be.

"I think I can do it all," Bryant said during the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. "I can play three technique and sub packages. I can play the five technique and rush the passer, and I can also play the Jack on some defenses, the SAM linebacker, just according to how they use them... But I definitely think I can do it all. Dropping space run with tight ends and backstop the backfill into the flats and rush the passes and play the run. So I think I'm a guy that can do it all."

His versatility will certainly help his chances to make an impact with the 49ers this season.

A decorated high school and college career


Bryant came to Clemson as a top 150 overall player nationally and an all-state performer at Thomas County Central High School in Thomasville, Georgia, where he also played basketball. Bryant finished with 129 tackles, 37 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, and one interception at Clemson. He was selected as a First-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America in 2017 while also winning second-team All-ACC honors. In 2018, Bryant was named third-team All-ACC and won the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award in the Cotton Bowl (six tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks in a win over Notre Dame).

Still, he never got quite the amount of hype as his teammates, and he's been motivated to prove himself as a result...

Making his own way


Bryant would have been the star on most college defenses, but at Clemson he was one of many. He waited his turn behind Shaq Lawson as a freshman, then shared a defense with Ferrell, Wilkins, Lawrence, cornerbacks A.J. Terrell (Falcons) and Trayvon Mullen (Ravens), safety K'Von Wallace (Eagles... as 49ers fans surely remember) and linebacker Isaiah Simmons (Cardinals). Among the stars on offense for the 2018 Clemson team were quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne (Jaguars), wide receiver Tee Higgins (Bengals), and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (Raiders).

Bryant's defensive line mates took much of the spotlight, which he admitted during the NFL Scouting Combine was a motivating factor, even if he was proud of what they accomplished.

"I mean, I'll be lying if I said it doesn't kind of kind of get to me sometimes, but for me, I've always been a person that I've always been doubted," Bryant said. "Even coming from high school, people doubted I'd be a good college player. Well, went to college, All-American, all-conference, eight-and-a-half, sacks my junior/senior year.

"So for me, it's more so about proving myself right, believing in myself rather than trying to prove people wrong."

With the Lions deciding not to bring Bryant back for a fifth season, expect him to be out to prove himself again when he comes to San Francisco.
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