October 30, 2014

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Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant making the most of his third chance

Cleveland Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant walks off the field after practice Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Cleveland Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant walks off the field after practice Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

BEREA — Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant understands the demons Josh Gordon is fighting off the field.

Demons of his own nearly ended his NFL career before it started, but also taught him what not to do.

“Things could have gone really bad for me,” Bryant said. “Luckily, things did fall in my favor and I was given a third chance. Every day, I’m still trying to prove that the Browns made the right decision.”

The 6-foot-4, 263-pounder is off to a fine start in his second training camp, earning praise from his coaches after making one tackle and a game-high two quarterback hits in Cleveland’s preseason opener, a 13-12 loss at Detroit.

Bryant is already a near-lock to make the Browns’ regular-season roster, and has proven to be a good fit in defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil’s scheme.

“Armonty has a chance to be a special pass rusher because he’s very explosive with his hands,” Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said. “You hate to compare guys around the league, but he does remind me of a slightly shorter Trevor Pryce (a four-time Pro Bowl selection).

“Off the field, Armonty tends to be very quiet, but you can tell that he loves football.”

Bryant said his low profile is by design, given all the problems he created while living the wild life. He infamously was arrested on back-to-back days in September 2012 for selling marijuana to an undercover officer on the East Central (Okla.) campus.

The Texas native ended up attending three colleges in a five-year span, then was arrested for driving under the influence six days after the Browns picked him in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Former Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski said the team considered releasing Bryant after the DUI, which Bryant later pleaded no contest to, before offering him a contract in late July.

The NCAA Division II All-American subsequently made the most of his “last chance” by appearing in 12 games as a rookie, collecting 20 tackles and a pair of quarterback sacks.

“I was working on being relentless and getting to the quarterback any way I could,” Bryant said. “And by the way we’ve been preparing on the football field day in and day out this season, I feel like I’m ready to make a statement and go out and show my ability even more.”

Bryant already made a strong statement during the offseason by not returning home to Wichita Falls, Texas, where his family and most of his friends — and bad decision-makers — reside.

He credits Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo for being a positive role model, which has helped keep him on the straight and narrow for more than a calendar year.

“I know it was tough for Armonty, especially when you want to see your family, but he felt like something bad might have happened if he went home,” Mingo said. “So he stayed here, worked out up here and got himself in shape for the OTAs.

“He’s definitely more comfortable because of it. He’s thriving at practice, making plays in games. You can see it every time he steps onto the field.”

While Bryant jokes that Mingo “has never done anything wrong his whole life,” their affection is obvious. It also could wind up paying big dividends for Cleveland if the second-year pros continue to push each other in the weight room.

“Mingo, that’s my boy, we go out all the time to eat and go to movies and hang out,” Bryant said. “This past offseason, I was here a lot with him, when I was staying out of the way and staying in my own lane.

“If I had gone home, who knows what would have happened? I’ve made changes with friends and keeping myself away from situations that could possibly hurt me from playing with this team.”

Pro Bowl wide receiver Gordon appears to be at opposite end of the spectrum, maintaining a presence on the police blotter that dates back to his college days. He also is facing a one-year NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

During the past four months, Gordon has been arrested for DWI in North Carolina and ticketed for speeding in Strongsville (with at least one marijuana-smoking passenger aboard) — after being suspended for the Browns’ first two games in 2012 for failing an NFL drug test.

The 24-year-old Bryant said a handful of players in Cleveland’s locker room are attempting to counsel Gordon, but he has deliberately stayed silent.

“You’ve got to find your own path and learn from your own mistakes, like I did,” he said. “I know there are guys talking to him, which is good, but it all comes down to wanting to make a change for yourself. It took me some time to understand that, but I definitely realize it now.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.