Bryant steps into Hargrove's shoes
By Bill Coats
Thursday, Oct. 19 2006

Oakland Raiders defensive end Tony Bryant seemed to be on his way to NFL stardom when he ran into San Francisco ***** fullback Fred Beasley helmet to helmet.

It happened Nov. 3, 2002, on a fourth-down play in overtime. When Beasley barged into the line, he and Bryant collided head-first. Bryant went down and stayed down.

"He was telling us, 'Get the doctors; get the trainers,'" linebacker Eric Barton told reporters after the game. "He knew right away something was wrong."

Bryant, who signed with the Rams on Tuesday, suffered a neck and spine injury that initially left him with numbness in his extremities. Although no bones were broken and he regained feeling quickly, Bryant's season was over and, the team later concluded, probably his career, too.

He had started 40 consecutive games for the Raiders, who drafted him in the second round (No. 40 overall) in 1999 out of Florida State. Bryant had established himself as a pass-rushing threat by collecting 17 1/2 sacks in 2 1/2 seasons as a first-teamer.

But the injury quickly derailed Bryant's rise. He failed his physical exam the following July, and Raiders medical personnel doubted whether he would play football again. Other teams apparently came to the same conclusion, and Bryant remained out of work.

As the 2003 season wound down, Bryant finally got a call. The New Orleans Saints, coached by Jim Haslett, wanted to check him out. On Dec. 26, they signed him to a two-year deal.

Bryant, 6 feet 6 and 282 pounds, played in 32 games, with one start, in two seasons with the Saints. He added six sacks to his career total, including four last year.

Haslett was fired soon after a 3-13 season muddled by Hurricane Katrina. Bryant was released at the end of training camp, displaced by rookie Rob Ninkovich.

On Tuesday, Haslett now the Rams' defensive coordinator and Bryant were reunited. Bryant worked out for the team and was given the roster spot that Anthony Hargrove held before he was traded to Buffalo on Monday.

"When I saw (Haslett), I was excited," said Bryant, 30. "When I left Oakland and then sat out a year, he gave me the opportunity to come back and prove myself. That was big."

His familiarity with Haslett's defensive system should get Bryant up to speed quickly. The Rams have a bye this week before traveling to San Diego on Oct. 29.

"Just watching film (Wednesday), all the defenses they were calling out, I was like, 'Yeah, I remember that,'" Bryant said. "I should pick it up real easy."

Filler becomes starter

Veteran Todd Steussie had not been a full-time regular since 2003, and the Rams signed him to a one-year deal April 17 mainly to add depth to their offensive line. But when two starters from last season guard Claude Terrell (wrist) and center Andy McCollum (knee) suffered season-ending injuries, Steussie became a starter again.

"It's nice to be out there and playing again," said Steussie, 35. "Hopefully, from a standpoint of continuity, no one else gets hurt."

Steussie filled in at left tackle against Detroit, when Orlando Pace was out with a concussion. He has been in the lineup at left guard for four games.

"Left tackle is something I've done for most of my career, but I think at this point in my career, left guard seems to be a good fit," said Steussie, who is in his 13th season and admittedly not as mobile as he once was.

"It's still a learning process," he said, "just little things that I've always been aware of, but until you actually do it, you don't know quite how it's going to work out. But I'm enjoying it."


Fullback Madison Hedgecock said four screws were inserted into his broken right thumb during surgery Tuesday. Hedgecock, injured Sunday vs. Seattle, hopes to be ready to play vs. the Chargers. ... The players scattered from Rams Park after a brief workout Wednesday. They are to report back Sunday night.