BEREA: Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant crouched into a three-point stance, lunged toward an orange, rectangular pad and violently struck it with his massive hands.
Going through the second practice of the team’s three-day voluntary veteran minicamp certainly wasn’t as strenuous as hand fighting with offensive linemen during the regular season, but it represented a significant step in Bryant’s journey on the comeback trail. He underwent a cardiac ablation Dec. 6 at the Cleveland Clinic to fix an irregular heartbeat that forced him to miss the final four games last season.
“While it was a trying time, I was also excited to get this procedure done and put this behind me,” Bryant said Wednesday after practice, speaking with reporters for the first time since the surgery. “Since then, I’ve been training and feeling real well. I’m back. I’m healthy. Today, I got back out there on the field a little bit, and I can’t wait to keep going.”
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Bryant missed the first practice of minicamp Tuesday for a personal reason unrelated to his health, coach Mike Pettine said. Bryant’s teammates were thrilled to welcome him back to the field Wednesday and are hoping he’ll continue to rebound.
“He’s a monster, man,” inside linebacker Craig Robertson said. “You guys know. You don’t have to ask me. When you get a monster back, it’s always better.”
Added inside linebacker Karlos Dansby: “For him to be able to have enough faith to come back out here on the field and continue to play this game, my hat goes off to him. He’s a tough guy, and I can’t wait to get out here and play with him.”
Bryant, 28, had health scares in each of the past two seasons because of an irregular heartbeat. He signed a five-year, $34 million contract with the Browns last year after spending the previous four seasons with the Oakland Raiders
“The scariest part was right when it would happen, I would feel like I had a fast heart rate,” Bryant said. “And the next thing I know I was going to the hospital.”
Bryant left a Raiders game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 4, 2012, because he experienced an accelerated heartbeat and shortness of breath. He left the Browns’ win over the Buffalo Bills early in the third quarter Oct. 3 because he had similar symptoms. Bryant began taking medication and returned to action for the next game, but two months later, he reported another episode the day following a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 1. He was then advised to undergo a cardiac ablation.
According to the American Heart Association, the procedure is designed to destroy a small area of heart tissue that causes rapid and irregular heartbeats. It usually involves inserting catheters through the groin to deliver radiofrequency energy that eliminates the disruptive tissue.
“If I did not have the procedure, I believe I could have played,” Bryant said. “I was never told otherwise, but I would have been putting myself at risk, which is not something you want to do. Not with your heart.”
Browns outside linebacker Quentin Groves underwent a cardiac ablation before his rookie season in 2008 and hasn’t had heart trouble since.
“Anytime someone plays with your heart, you’re kind of scared,” Groves said. … “You’re always scared that you’re not going to wake up.”
Groves has been a resource for Bryant throughout the ordeal.
“Des is a big baby. I have to rock him to sleep at night,” Groves said. “No, I’m just kidding. I just told him, ‘It’s a fairly simple procedure. I recommend you get it done. I’m proud that you got it done before it became a problem for you.’?”
About three months after his surgery, Bryant received full medical clearance.
“I feel great,” Bryant said. “There’s still some work to do on my conditioning, but I think everybody out there could probably say that. I feel good about where I am, and I feel good about where I project myself to be.”
Last season, Bryant made an effort to stop consuming energy drinks because of his health issue. Now he’s taking other precautions.
“A heart surgery will make you kind of realize you need to start doing things right, especially diet wise,” Bryant said. “I’ve really cleaned things up.”
Bryant started all 12 games in which he appeared last season and had 45 tackles, including 3½ sacks. He led the Browns with 32 quarterback harassments, which combines pressures and hits.
He dominated early in the season, as evidenced by his 10 tackles and two sacks in the opener against the Miami Dolphins. But he didn’t have any sacks in the aftermath of his scare against the Bills.
Bryant said he doesn’t know whether his condition affected him subconsciously or tangibly in a way that limited his production as the season progressed. Regardless, he believes he’ll be able to stay healthy and thrive in Pettine’s 3-4, hybrid scheme, the most complex system in which he has played.
“I’m confident in my abilities,” Bryant said. “I know that any defense you put me in, I’m going to go out there and I’m going to excel. So it’s a new challenge for me to learn something new. But I accept challenges.”
Including those he has encountered on the comeback trail.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ.