Bryant out to show 49ers he's worth the trouble The temperamental receiver is learning to keep his emotions in check By Cam Inman CONTRA COSTA TIMES Irene Bryant drove her bus along a new route through Miami last week when her passengers started muttering in four languages about her wrong turn. She promptly stopped the bus and stepped off it. Considering the temper her oldest son, Antonio, has shown at times as a hot-shot NFL wide receiver, you'd think she would turn around, throw her keys into the bus and tell the passengers to drive themselves the rest of the way. But no, she calmly stepped back on the bus, cordially asked anyone who knew the area to assist her and continued on the route. It's that type of restraint Antonio Bryant says he's ready to exhibit in his first season with the 49ers. "You have to handle certain situations the right way," Bryant said last month after a 49ers practice. "It's about timing a lot of times. I've got the timing down." "He's come a long way," his mother added in a phone interview. "I still have to talk to him, like when he'll groan about paying bills. I still let him know this is the real world, that he's not out of this world. He's still in this world." Bryant is in line to serve as the 49ers' bona fide No. 1 wide receiver, a long-lost role that could result in a heavy workload if talented tight ends Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson draw too much defensive coverage. But the looming question shouldn't be how much Bryant ultimately can produce, something he's done well with two teams (the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns) under four different coaching staffs in four seasons. The bigger concern is whether he'll be able to harness his emotions. "He's a competitive player who's very assertive in the style he plays," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "One big thing to me is the guy takes charge of his competitive nature and tries to get in defensive backs' heads. He needs to do that consistently on the field without it getting in his own head." Bryant agreed, saying of his competitive drive: "It'll pop the bottle top if you let it. You just can't shake the bottle too much." Cowboys coach Bill Parcells sure wasn't playing spin-the-bottle with Bryant two years ago during a well-publicized, on-field spat. They exchanged words, then Bryant's jersey got thrown back-and-forth between the two. Bryant threw it to the ground, Parcells picked it up and threw it at him, and Bryant tossed it back in Parcells' face before being kicked out of the offseason practice and sent to anger management counseling. Some four months later, Bryant got traded to the Browns, five games into the 2004 season. "Some things in life had to happen," Bryant said. "I'm still here. Now be worried." He himself was worried, however, about his career after the jersey-throwing incident. "I knew at that point to learn from this or you won't be in the NFL anymore," Bryant said. Might Bryant dare to throw his No. 81 49ers jersey at Nolan? "I hope he's matured. I don't think he would," Nolan responded. "He wouldn't get two tries. He already knows the consequences." Nolan and Bryant went over those guidelines before he signed a four-year, $15 million free-agent contract in March with a $5 million signing bonus. Asked of their discussions, Bryant said: "It was typical. If you've got a guy with baggage, he'll want to know what's in the suitcase. Others will just see that the suitcase is red, like a red flag, but never ask what's in it." Irene Bryant said it's "partly my fault" when her son gets too riled up at times, such as when he'd see any of his four siblings misbehaving. "When I'd be working and he'd be out of school, he'd go off on one of his brothers and say, 'I'm telling mom. You're not supposed to be doing that,'" she recalled. "He's so intense. He has his pride. I'd say, 'You have to be a leader, not a follower. You're the oldest, and you have to set an example.' I used to shake him and say, 'Look, you've got to listen and you've got to get this.'" Oh, he's picked up plenty. Go back to fifth grade when Bryant, a Miami native, was enrolled in an international studies program and went on a two-week trip to Spain, where he saw snow for the first time. "Try doing algebra in Spanish. He was smart in school. Trust me," Irene Bryant said. "It was never any problem." He did have discipline problems at the University of Pittsburgh, dropping him out of the first round of the 2002 draft. The Cowboys took him in the second round with the 63rd pick overall. He had an impressive 733 yards receiving in 15 starts as a rookie, and his first full season with the Browns was even better, surpassing 1,000 yards last year for the first time in his career. But he also dropped some passes with the Browns, something coach Romeo Crennel didn't let slide. "Antonio hasn't been everything we wanted," Crennel told reporters last season, "and that goes to the inconsistency with the drops." Bryant doesn't dismiss his drops -- "six or seven" by his count -- and he's well aware of some of their "bad timing." Yet he challenges anyone to say he doesn't work hard. "You've got to have respect and good character. The talent doesn't mean anything," Irene Bryant said of the message she shares with her children. "You've got to come in with the right attitude. You need to know how to deal with victories and disappointment." Bryant's goal for 2006 is to gain more respect around the league, especially after landing a contract smaller than those of other free-agent wide receivers this offseason. "The only thing that upsets me, when I was coming out of college, none of those dudes put up the numbers I had in college -- Antwaan Randle El, David Givens, Brandon Lloyd," Bryant said. "Now look at the numbers from the past few years. None of those dudes, who all got new contracts, put up the numbers I have in the NFL. But they all just got bigger contracts. I went out and busted (his butt). There's going to be trouble this year." Trouble for opponents, he means, not the 49ers. To help kids steer clear of trouble in his old Miami neighborhood, he'll offer advice, whether it's when he visits from his offseason home in Dallas or when he answers a phone call from a friend who's found an at-risk youth. "I've been through a lot of turbulence," he said, "and I'm still flying." And his mom's still driving buses for a living. Soon she'll be driving herself home to a new four-bedroom house her eldest son bought for her in the Miami suburbs. "It feels good to do things for mom," Bryant said. "You've always got to do things for mom." He's even prouder of something else, however. "I've become a man." Even if it did take him a couple wrong turns.