Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant may have grown physically this offseason, bulking up to put on 10 pounds of muscle, but that will matter little in comparison to where he needs to grow the most, and where there have been positive reports, which is in his understanding of the offense and in his route running.
Despite the fact that he managed to gain over 500 yards through the air in 10 regular season games, a number aided by 80- and 94-yard touchdown receptions, the reality is that he only averaged a little over two and a half receptions per game, finishing the year with 26.
That wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of targets, either, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hesitated little to attempt to feed him the ball when he was seen to be in advantageous situations.
In 306 snaps during the regular season, Roethlisberger targeted Bryant 48 times, with 200 of those snaps going down as a passing play. That means that he was targeted nearly a quarter of the time that he was eligible.
Granted, some of that may be inflated due to the fact that he was incorporated into the offense during parts of the game in which he was likely to be targeted. As he snap counts increased later on in the season, his ratio of routes run to targets dipped, as would be expected.
Assuming that he is entering the starting lineup this season, then, it will be critical for him not only to stay ahead of defenses as they learn to adjust to his game, but also to stay on top of his routes, and to be where he is expected to be on the field.
That is an aspect of the game that was a struggle for Markus Wheaton during a stretch last season. If you are not where your quarterback expects you to be, then he can’t throw you the ball, and he’s not going to trust you to be where you need to be the next time around.
According to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey has been helping the team’s reigning rookie of the year prepare for his second season, advising him to work on his conditioning during the offseason, which he clearly has.
Heyward-Bey said that Bryant has “taken it to a different level” this offseason through the combination of “knowing what to do and having Ben trust him”, saying that “Ben’s trusting him now because he’s being where he’s supposed to be”.
It’s certainly a good sign that Heyward-Bey is seeing the improvement in the young man, but Bryant has also seen it in himself.
He told Adamski that “I feel a lot better about my routes because of the work I put in in the offseason”, adding, “I know what I’m getting myself into now. I don’t have to think. I just go out and play”. As long as Roethlisberger is seeing this as well and is on the same page with his young wideout, it seems that Bryant should be able to pick up where he left off last season.