When rookie Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant finally started to see playing time back in Week 7, he started producing right away. However, after catching 14 passes for 310 yards and six touchdowns in his first four NFL games, the Clemson product has cooled off considerably.
According to Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, defenses are now paying more attention to Bryant now that he’s shown that he can impact games with his size and speed.
“I think they are much more aware of him now after seeing him make a few plays,” Haley said Thursday during his talk with the media. “We knew it would get more difficult. He had two hands on a football in the game last week that we felt like he had to make the play for us.
“They are aware of him. He is not under the radar any longer. That’s the way it is. Things get tougher and you have to continue to elevate your level of play, which he is working hard at. We are excited about the direction he is going. He needs to make those types of plays in games.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger even acknowledged Wednesday during his talk with the media that Bryant is getting a little more attention than he was previously.
“Yeah a little bit. They’re keeping an eye on him,” Roethlisberger said. “He obviously came into the league into his first couple of games and made some pretty big splashes. The secret is not there anymore. It’s good because now he works hard and it’s not just going to be easy for him. We told him that that was going to be the case is that it’s not going to be easy and every week is going to continue to get harder and it’s shown that it is. I have confidence. I know he has confidence in himself that he’ll continue to work to keep getting better.”
Even though Bryant has only caught three passes for 34 yards in the Steelers last two games, Haley said Thursday that the Steelers fourth-round draft pick is still hungry and trying to improve his game.
“Oh yeah. He is a prideful guy,” Haley said. “He has been working his butt off in the meeting room and out here to try to do it the way he is supposed to be doing it.”
As for Bryant, he’s been leaning on fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown for guidance recently now that he’s getting more attention in the passing game.
“They’re treating me like a little ‘AB’ now,” Bryant said Thursday,” according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “So I’m just really following him, trying to do what he does.
“He just says you’ve got to outwork them. Double-team or not, you’ve got to go out and execute your plays. I’m just working hard, trying to get better.”
Coming out of college, Bryant was considered a player who was very raw and that’s not surprising being as he came out after his junior season. 42 of Bryant’s 61 career catches at Clemson came in 2013, so it’s obvious that he’s still got a lot to learn when it comes to playing the wide receiver position at the NFL level. He definitely has the measurables and skill sets needed to excel as professional, so as long as he continues to work hard he should have a very productive career in Pittsburgh.
Bryant’s build and style of play is similar to that of former Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Burress, who was drafted by the Steelers in the first-round of the 2000 NFL Draft, only caught 22 passes for 273 yards during his rookie season in Pittsburgh. He also failed to find the end zone that year and everyone remembers him spiking the football after making a catch in the Week 5 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars that season. Luckily that turnover in that game didn’t cost the Steelers a win.
Burress went on to catch 66 passes for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns in his second season with the Steelers and there’s no reason to think that Bryant can’t make that kind of jump next year. In the meantime, however, he just needs to follow the advice of Brown.
“He’s got to be on his screws, the details of his game,” Brown said, “and then just make the plays when the plays come to you.”
Bryant’s next opportunity to make plays will come Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, whose defense has only allowed 28 passes thrown 16 or more yards past the line of scrimmage to be completed so far this season. It will be a great test for the rookie and a chance for him to show that he can make plays against one of the better deep pass defenses in the league this season.
Bryant might not be flying underneath the radar of opposing defenses anymore, but he ought to get a few opportunities to fly over the top of the Bengals secondary Sunday. If he makes a few big plays in that game, we’ll be able to move past this recent slump narrative that is currently being used when talking about him.