While Martavis Bryant’s return to the football field for the first time in 19 months was obviously highly anticipated, it is understandable that his 2017 debut did not exactly live up to the fireworks display that some might have anticipated.
For one thing, he had only just returned to practice for about a week. For another, he wasn’t playing with Ben Roethlisberger, or even Landry Jones, but rather rookie Joshua Dobbs, and he has been having accuracy issues.
It wasn’t very surprising that they gave him the ball on the first play of the game. They opened in a run formation with two tight ends to the right side, the open side of the field. Bryant motioned there. After the snap, he slipped out into the slot as the tight ends raced to flank in front of him.
The only problem is that there were two blockers for three defenders. Well, the other problem is that Jesse James couldn’t decide which to block, and so let both of them go. The resulting mayhem produced a screen pass that went for a three-yard loss.
Bryant would next see the ball early in the second quarter, taking it on a sweep from right to left. This time it was Xavier Grimble who struggled to combat a pair of defenders and ultimately allowed both of them to get through.
Had he been able to secure the far defender, he may have won the outside for Bryant. Instead, he took a hard shot and ended up fumbling, the ball spilling out of bounds for a loss of a yard. Obviously not the start anybody wanted to see for the wide receiver.
They did get back to him quickly, a couple of plays later, with Dobbs finding him on a back shoulder throw down the right sideline for a 23-yard gain. It was the one clear glimpse in the game of what he can mean to this offense in 2017.
Bryant did see one more target, which came midway through the third quarter. Designed similar to the previous play, it was, or ended up being, a back-shoulder throw down the right sideline, only this time he struggled to adjust to the ball as he tried to box out the cornerback with his right arm and failed to come down with it.
Saturday’s game against the Colts, with Roethlisberger at quarterback and a game under his belt, will be far more illuminating about where Bryant currently is. But clearly James and Grimble need to work on their screen blocks.