Second-year Texans linebacker Bryan Braman is growing his hair long this offseason, thinking about possibly going back to dreadlocks. He had them in college at West Texas A&M before his teammates cut them in a prank his senior year at his defensive line coach's house.
He's leaning toward sticking with long hair and forgoing the dreads, but Braman still clearly has them on his mind. He keeps his old ones in a Ziploc bag in his garage.
"I think that's just because I wasn't ready to let 'em go," Braman said. "The circumstances that I was put in kind of forced me to cut 'em, so I still have a small attachment to 'em. Hopefully, someday I'll be able to let 'em go, but right now, they're still with me. My momma, she won't let me keep 'em in the house, so I've got to keep 'em in the garage."
There has been another change in Braman's appearance this offseason: His teeth.
Braman comes from what he describes as a "pretty low-class family" in Spokane, Wash. Raised by a single mother, he didn't have health insurance, and for one reason or another, his teeth were a disaster zone by the time he arrived in Houston last year as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Now that he finally has the means, Braman had multiple dentist appointments and surgeries this offseason – nine visits' worth of work in two trips – to fix a smorgasbord of issues ranging from cavities to rotten, exploded molars.
"It was quite a bit of work with the cavities," Braman said. "The surgeries were to get caps, implants and stuff – that way I've got some teeth to chew with.
"My whole family's kind of toothless. My dad, he doesn't have no tooth. My grandpa, he didn't have any teeth by the time he was about 30. All my uncles, they don't have any teeth. It's weird. I want to say it's genetic, but I guess I could've prevented it with a little bit of better tooth care and upkeep with the dentist and stuff. But yeah, we're a pretty toothless family."
Teeth and hair are just part of Braman's intriguing off-field story. At 6-5 in high school, he showed off-the-charts athleticism with an 11.1 100-meter dash, 6-9 high jump and 21-foot long jump. At Long Beach City College, he modeled for Abercrombie & Fitch and did casting calls in Los Angeles.
Early in his senior season at West Texas, Braman was suspended indefinitely for manufacturing psilocybin, a hallucinogen found in mushrooms. Last summer during the lockout, he worked as a bouncer at a bar in College Station, Texas, as he awaited his chance to sign with an NFL team.
Braman also had a 7-4, 360-pound grandfather from St. Maries, Id.
"He was a big boy," Braman said. "I kind of think that's where I get my size from."
On the field, Braman is similarly intriguing. In 2011, he went from being a long shot to make the Texans' roster to leading the team with 2.5 preseason sacks to being perhaps their best special teams player by year's end (Video: Braman makes helmetless tackle). And thanks in part, he believes, to removing the infections in his teeth, Braman bulked up to 250 pounds this offseason after finishing last season between 230-235.
Braman has been moved from Will linebacker on the weakside to Sam on the strongside, where he has a chance to back up Brooks Reed in 2012. An impressive organized team activities (OTAs) and mini-camp certainly helped his cause.
"He's getting better every day," Texans linebackers coach Reggie Herring said at the end of OTAs. "His work habits have improved, as goes with the maturity of growing as a football player. His pass rush skills are getting better and stronger, more explosive, because he's gained weight now, which is a needed must for him as far as his overall development. He's really a very talented, young, developmental player that has a chance to build on what he did last year special teams-wise and work his way into a position to giving us solid depth along with some pass rush skills in the sub package on third down.
"We've been very pleased to date. It's all ahead of him. He has great growth potential physically and athletically, and as a player development, the sky's the limit."
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said during the second week of OTAs that Braman had come a long way. Asked for his own thoughts on how far he had come, Braman said it wasn't for him to judge.
"I really feel like I'm trying to be the best player that I can and kind of sitting back and just listening to the coaches, taking their coaching the best that I can and just trying to come out and improve every day," Braman said. "First of all, being a better practice player – showing the coaches that I can do it in practice so that they will trust me to be able to do it in the game. Obviously, it's every player's dream to be able to have more snaps on offense or defense, whichever side of the ball they play on. I love special teams. Every facet that I'm on, I love it. I just love playing the game, and it's been a lot of fun."
Herring said Braman still has a ways to go, but the Texans' hope is that Braman can improve on defense this year the way he improved on special teams as a rookie.
If he does, the Texans might have found themselves a gem.
"At the end of the day, it's hard to find a guy on the street in this league that is 6-5, 6-6, that can run like a deer, has athleticism and is young," Herring said. "You couldn't ask for a better project to develop, and this league is about developing players. As long as he stays focused, he continues his mental maturity, his growth process physically and mentally and stays the course, he has a chance to provide us with some excellent depth.
"He is a classic diamond in the rough, so to speak. He's not a diamond yet, but he has a chance to shine some day. He has a chance to get there and be what you want. They're very hard to find on the street – that long, that lengthy, that athletic, and can run. I really think – and I always felt this with him starting out last year – that if he would commit to lifting weights, to improving his overall play strength and body strength, that he could become a very explosive player. The word consistency comes into play. He's not there yet, but he's closer than he was last year, and he has a chance. And that's all we ask."