Bryant bringing fresh start to WR tradition

One of the big knocks on Antonio Bryant is that he's young and immature. But the newest 49er said Monday that is one of the greatest things about him hooking up with his new team in San Francisco. "I understand that the team is young and I'm one of those guys who is young and looking for the opportunity to come out here and blossom with something new and fresh," Bryant said after inking a 4-year deal with the Niners, who share the vision that adding the WR will contribute to the team's rebirth.

The 49ers are feeling mighty pleased that they got both younger and better with Monday's signing of the unrestricted free agent – and not just at the starting split end position Bryant will play for them in 2006 and beyond.

The Niners also are smiling about the circumstances surrounding the moves that brought Bryant to San Francisco as the replacement for Brandon Lloyd. In addition to essentially swapping Lloyd's acrobatic ability for Bryant's size, speed and upside potential, the 49ers also made themselves ostensibly younger, better and deeper by adding a third-round draft pick in 2006 and a fourth-rounder in 2007 in the deal that sent Lloyd to Washington over the weekend.

Bryant – who has had his attitude and consistency examined and questioned repeatedly during his first four NFL seasons (two each in Dallas and Cleveland) – is all on board with the mindset behind the moves that brought him together with the 49ers.

"I figure if I was going to start over, this was a perfect opportunity," he said. "I was sold when I first got here and saw the roster of coaches and the history of some of these coaches and some of the previous players that they've dealt with and the previous history of the teams they've come from and were involved with. That just sold me right there."

A $15 million contract that includes a signing bonus of more than $5 million helped sell Bryant, too. But that big money is as good a deal for the 49ers as it is for Bryant as the team stuck with its intention of not grossly overpaying in free agency to bring in fresh veteran talent.

Bryant certainly has the talent, and he appears to be just tapping into his potential at age 25. Bryant had a career-best 69 receptions for 1,009 yards for the Browns in 2005, but was expendable because Braylon Edwards is considered Cleveland's No. 1 receiver of the future.

Bryant has averaged 14.8 yards per catch on his 210 career receptions since coming into the NFL in 2002 as a second-round selection with Dallas, where he started 15 games and caught six touchdown passes as a rookie.

It also was in Dallas that his attitude and immaturity became issues after he butted heads (and threw jerseys) in a few well-publicized incidents with coach Bill Parcells. The issues that followed Bryant to Cleveland provide him with both wisdom and motivation as he comes to San Francisco.

"I knew I had some baggage, but all in all, I still feel like I have to come in here and prove that I'm capable of being the receiver they need me to be," Bryant said. "I knew I had some baggage in the past, and I definitely think I have something to prove to them and to come in here and be the player and receiver they need me to be, and to help this organization and this receiving corps.

"I can't control (the way he has been tagged by people in the past). I can just come here and be the guy and show them the guy they are getting, and prove to the city of San Francisco, and try to bring some better football and better days here. I'm 25 years old now. I came in (to the NFL) very young, so I can say that I didn't have the opportunity to be groomed by other receivers like some guys did. A lot of things I had to do was learn on my own and protect myself. For the most part, I've been around a lot of guys who feared the competition of a young guy taking their job. I had to bump my head a few times to get where I am now."

The 49ers, obviously, gave weight to those issues. But coach Mike Nolan said the Niners did their homework before making Bryant an offer, and the team feels good in every area about the new skill-position weapon it's getting for an offense that needs considerable upgrades. Nolan said multiple NFL coaches he spoke with called Bryant one of the most hard-working receivers they ever have worked with.

"All through our discussions, (Bryant) wanted to be a 49er, and I think he brings a lot of value to our roster," Nolan said. "He's a playmaker, he's extremely competitive, he's mentally tough, and those are positive things. He's a proven player who's done it successfully for more than one year (in the NFL), and that's real important for us.

"We spoke at length (about Bryant's checkered past). He feels he's wiser than he was in the past. Most importantly, I believe the structure and accountability we've put in place the last year – I believe he'll fit into that structure."

At 6-foot-2, 192 pounds and possessing top-shelf speed, Bryant brings new dimensions that have been sorely lacking in San Francisco's passing game over recent seasons. In addition to Bryant's ability to stretch defenses, Nolan said Bryant is "a good all-around player. He will block for his teammates. He's not a one-dimensional guy. He plays the complete game. That's real important to the success of our football team."

Though he has yet to establish himself as a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL, Bryant has exhibited the talent to do so, and that will be his purpose with the 49ers.

"I understand that," Bryant said, "but as I told coach, my attitude and my approach to anything in life is that nothing is given to anyone. Even if it's given to them, they've got to earn the right to keep it. I'm going to go in here as if I was the guy off the streets and I'm going to earn whatever is given to me and whatever is out there, I'm going to take it."

Bryant made a point to say San Francisco already feels like home, and he promised it will be the place where he makes his name as a NFL receiver.

"I knew that I would get the opportunity in free agency, so when it came, it was great for me," he said. "The whole image thing, and perception is reality and dealing with all of that stuff, I feel like now I don't have to even deal with any of that stuff. I have a fresh canvas. I can definitely paint now, and what better organization? I've been with Dallas and it was great, and now I'm here with the 49ers, another great organization. And the history they've had here is with a lot of great receivers. Why not (start over) here in San Francisco, the home of the receivers?"

It's Antonio Bryant's home now, and the 49ers are banking that he's a guy who can live up to the history while bringing that tradition back to the team's WR corps.

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