You’ve no doubt heard by now that the Pittsburgh Steelers are now expected to begin the 2015 regular season without the services of wide receiver Martavis Bryant for the first four games of the season, pending an appeal.
Bryant’s suspension was handed down in response to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. It is his first suspension, to the four games that he was given strongly suggests that he was already a stage two offender.
The Steelers will now be relying heavily upon the services of Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton, who began the 2014 season as the starting wide receivers. Bryant, then a rookie, was inactive for the first six games of the season.
In the meantime, veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey will likely be expected to assume the majority of snaps in three-receiver sets as rookie Sammie Coates is mixed in on occasion, knowing that he will be limited as he learns the offense.
With Bryant on the suspended list for the first four games of the season, however, this opens a significant window of opportunity for one of the wide receivers in camp to make the 53-man roster and possibly even see some playing time.
The three candidates in the running for that temporary fifth wide receiver spot are all rookie or first-year players, namely C.J. Goodwin, Tyler Murphy, and Shakim Phillips. All three have caught a touchdown pass from Landry Jones this preseason.
Goodwin spent all of last season on the practice squad in spite of the fact that he never saw time on offense during that preseason. In the first game this season, he fumbled upon his first reception. In the second game, however, he rebounded by making two key catches through significant contact, including a short touchdown reception.
Murphy, a former college quarterback, showed significant growth as a wide receiver in the last preseason game, which Goodwin missed due to injury. He caught four passes for 61 yards, twice showing impressive YAC ability, including shaking two defenders at the goal line for a 21-yard touchdown.
Phillips has been nothing short of an enigma. He has dropped several passes, but has also made some highlight reel plays, including a long touchdown as he pulled a ball in from over the defensive back’s head.
While the starters should play the majority of snaps in the Steelers’ fourth preseason game, the final game has certainly taken on a much higher level of importance now for this trio of young wide receivers, who figure to have their best shot at making the roster.
Special teams will go a long way toward deciding who can secure that role, and Phillips may have done the most work in that regard. But Goodwin has received the most work, when healthy, with the starting units in practices, while Murphy has made significant strides recently.
It’s not completely out of left field that the Steelers may also considering going the veteran route for the first four games, due to the lack of experience and dependability already present behind Brown and Wheaton, but it seems more likely that one of these three young receivers will be given their opportunity.
Should one of them make the 53-man roster, it will also open up another roster spot on the practice squad for one of them to have another month to state their case to remain with the organization.