Antonio Bryant high-steps in 2009 -- his last NFL season. (Getty Images)RENTON, Wash. -- On the same day he made no bones about the fact that it was time for Mike Williams to move on, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll explained the thought process behind taking a flyer on another receiver who had been out of the NFL for multiple years. Carroll signed Williams to a no-promises offseason deal before the 2010 season, and Williams -- who had eaten his way out of the league and stayed there for two full seasons -- responded with his best campaign to date. But injuries slowed Williams' progress in 2011, the team released him earlier this month, and now, Williams' roster spot has been taken by Antonio Bryant -- who hasn't suited up in a game since January of 2010 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"When we worked him out earlier in the year he wasn't ready," Carroll said of Bryant's process. "We said to him, if you come back in the day before camp and show us that you can make big improvements then we'll think about hooking up a contract with you and getting you in here, and he did that. He looked very good in the workout, but he does come in here with a hamstring that is bothering him a little bit and we want to make sure we don't rush that. He got some work today, but it'll take us a few days to assess where he is with that."
Bryant was selected in the second round of the 2002 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He underperformed there for a couple of years, posted his first 1,000-yard season for the 2005 Cleveland Browns, passed through San Francisco in 2006, and put up some pretty good numbers in two years for the Bucs. The last we heard from him, Bryant signed a four-year, $28 million contract to play for the Cincinnati Bengals before the 2010 season, and the Bengals cut him before he played a single game. While Terrell Owens quickly made his mark in Cincinnati's preseason that year, Bryant wasn't able to make much of a positive impression because of a knee injury. Now, he's just hoping to catch a little of the fire Williams did in that same season.
"Things have changed a lot," Bryant said after Seattle's first day of training camp on Saturday. "Before that I was on paperback -- now it's the iPads. There are times where I feel like I'm probably the first generation of the lithium battery and these guys have the HD, the 3D now. But if you look at it, I'm used to two-a-days, so my mindset when I got here was 'I'm preparing.' When I was working out, I was working out two times a day at home. I was training for two-a-days. When I got here and saw the schedule, I was like 'What, what is going on?' But it was a blessing too, so I am just going to take advantage of it."
Yes, the new reduced practice schedule, mandated by the collective bargaining agreement, may come as a shock to a guy who's been away for a while. Bryant's last season of serious production came in 2008, when he caught 83 passes for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns for the Buccaneers. To give perspective on how long ago 2008 is in NFL time, that was Jon Gruden's last year as an NFL head coach. Still, the cheerfully confident Bryant believes he's on the way to greater things, and that he'll do so in high gear.
"I feel very good," he said. "I feel like a Corvette out there. Honestly, I do. It feels good to run around. I haven't done anything in two years, so you know -- falling back in love with it, enjoying the process. Maybe I didn't take advantage of that when I was younger, but now I'm enjoying the process."
"The Corvette analogy is good," Carroll said with cautious optimism. "He didn't look like one before, but if it's Corvette, it's a Corvette."
It would be good for the Seahawks if Bryant fit in their garage. Williams is gone, and top receiver Sidney Rice, who was acquired before the 2011 season, is still recovering from a series of injuries that marred his season. The team took Rice off the preseason Physically Unable to Perform list just before Saturday's single practice, and though the Seahawks' receiver lineup without Rice is deep on paper, there isn't a lot of proven production. That made some wonder why Carroll didn't give Williams a preseason to prove that he could still contribute, but Carroll shut that concept down quickly.
"It was time to move on. Mike had come back and had done some good things for us; I just felt like it was time to move on. Hopefully, he'll get a chance to do something somewhere else."
Bryant knows exactly where Williams is -- and was -- and he will try to make something out of his new and unexpected window.
"Right now, I'm just going to compete. That's all I can say and look forward to doing. Like I said, I'm blessed. There are a lot of guys at home that wish they were here, who wish they had this uniform on. So I'm going to take the opportunity to make the most of it."