49ers roster 2023: Austin Bryant wants to resurrect career with San Francisco

Detroit Lions edge Austin Bryant (2)
Detroit Lions edge Austin Bryant (2) / Mike Mulholland/GettyImages

Austin Bryant has always had talent, but injuries got in the way. Perhaps a heavy dose of 49ers support can prove to be the difference-maker.

The San Francisco 49ers have had something of a history grabbing underachieving or less-known defensive ends and turning them into quality players within a year or two's time. In recent years, Kerry Hyder, Arden Key, Jordan Willis and Charles Omenihu were all hardly discussed defensive linemen who became quality B-team pass-rushers with the Niners under the close observation of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.

Aside from Hyder, the other names are gone now. But Kocurek has two new veteran bodies to work with heading into 2023, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant.

Niner Noise's annual look at every single player on San Francisco's roster will get to Ferrell later, and it's Bryant who commands the attention now.

A fourth-round pick of the Detroit Lions back in 2019 out of Clemson, Bryant has always had the raw talent.

Injuries, however, have largely gotten in the way.

Bryant landed on injured reserve his rookie season with a pectoral injury. The following year in 2020, he started the season off on the reserve/physically unable-to-perform list and wasn't activated until November of that year.

2021 turned into Bryant's best year as a pro, and health was a big reason why. Appearing in 14 regular-season games, he managed 4.5 sacks, 31 tackles, five of which were for a loss, and six quarterback hits.

The following season, though, Bryant was relegated to a rotational role. And those 4.5 sacks recorded in 2021 remain his career total.

So, why would the 49ers want anything to do with him?

Why did the 49ers sign Austin Bryant in 2023 NFL free agency?

The 2023 offseason turned out to be pretty turbulent, at least in terms of the Niners and their edge rushers.

Omenihu and Samson Ebukam both departed via NFL free agency. So did Willis. And while San Francisco was able to retain Hyder, the need to have some other rotational pieces in support of the Defensive Player of the Year, edge Nick Bosa, was still vital.

That's where both Bryant and Ferrell came in, two pass-rushers whose careers have simply never materialized into much of anything and for one reason or another.

At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Bryant definitely fits the mold of a good-quality edge rusher, at least from a physical standpoint. And the 49ers had the need to reinforce the back end of their pass-rushing department, so offering the 26-year-old Bryant a one-year deal worth up to $965,000 is a very easy move to make.

So, if Kocurek is able to work his magic with Bryan in a similar fashion as he did with players like Key and Hyder before, perhaps this low-risk move ends up paying off.

What will 49ers expect Austin Bryant to do this season?

Remember what Willis' role with the Niners used to be? In case you forgot, Willis was a situational pass-rusher who could spot start in the event of an injury but primarily saw time at the back of the depth chart and on special teams.

With Willis gone, the need for one of those rotational pass-rushers reemerged, although San Francisco won't be expecting too much out of Bryant other than to plug the gap at the back end of the roster.

Bryant has $550,000 guaranteed in his contract, which is a decent indication that he'll make the 53-man roster if healthy. Yet he's a player who might only rotate in for only 10 to 15 snaps per game at the most, although he'll be expected to contribute on special teams.

Read more: 49ers 2023 schedule is out, and we predicted every game

That said, Kocurek has turned less-known players into solid complementary players to Bosa before, and it's possible the position coach was pounding the table for the organization to sign Bryant.

If the latter happens, it'll be yet another great example of Kocurek polishing gems out of seemingly nothing.

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