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October 2, 2013

Patient Bryant learning slowly

Patience and football aren't best friends. As a sport, football is a game of instant gratification for coaches, players and fans. It deals in the immediate, the measurable, the concrete - plays, tackles, wins, losses.

For those waiting to get on the field, however, the view is much, much different. Waiting is difficult. Waiting is a challenge. Waiting is the last thing a player wants to do.

As part of a heralded group of incoming linebackers, Larenz Bryant bona fides are stout - Shrine Bowl, U.S. Army All-American Bowl, four stars, rated the No. 4 inside linebacker in the country. Physically, he's gifted. Playing both linebacker and running back his senior year, he rushed for 1,694 yards and 21 touchdowns while recording 86 tackles and returning three of his four interceptions for touchdowns.

All that, of course, is meaningless when a player steps on a college campus and joins a team full of guys with similarly impressive credentials. For Bryant, he's watched as fellow freshmen Skai Moore (16 tackles) and Jonathan Walton (three tackles) have seen the field and contributed. Having appeared in just one game, Vanderbilt, Bryant's 2013 line is modest: one tackle, one quarterback hurry.

Bryant didn't play in Orlando, but based on the disappointing performance of the linebackers and encouragement from the coaches, he hopes those numbers will grow with his playing time.

Bryant moved to the Spur linebacker position three weeks ago after practicing at Will (weakside) all camp in a move coaches hope will bring size (6-foot, 220 pounds) and speed to the position. Bryant hopes the transition - and the waiting - will pay off.

"It's moving slow right now," Bryant said. "I'm still trying to learn the plays and trying to find my spot.

"(Spur is) a lot of moving, a lot of pass covering. You get to guard the receivers and you still have to be able to come up and tackle, just like the Will does. I like the position better than Will because I can show my athleticism."

Bryant's feedback from the coaches is as simple as it is frustrating: be patient.

"They're telling me to stay in the playbook right now," Bryant said. "I'm not really getting that much reps with the older guys (redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs and junior Sharrod Golightly) getting most of the reps, but stay in the playbook and get my reps in practice."

As to whether he's able to contribute this year as he hopes or next, even Bryant isn't sure.

"It's hard to say right now," Bryant said. "Golightly and Diggs are doing well, so I don't really know. I'm just going to keep going."

His limited playing experience against the Commodores was eye-opening, Bryant said.

"It was good, my first time playing on defense," Bryant said. "I had fun. I missed a few assignments and then I went down after that. But I played fast, showed my strength and went to the ball fast."

For now, Bryant is exercising patience - the opposite of the speed he likes to flash on the field. "I just cheer my teammates, Golightly and Diggs," Bryant said. "When coach (Botkin) is talking to them, I'm around, listening to what they did wrong and right. When I go out there and get my time, I'll be able to go out and know what I'm doing.

I just keep my head up in practice. I'm not used to being on the sideline, on the bench. But I listen to (Golightly and Diggs) in practice and in games, so that's the upside."

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