The return of Martavis Bryant to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has frequently been portrayed as something of a magic elixir that is going to transform them to a marginal offense to an elite one, and perhaps that will be the case, in time. But the wide receiver has not exactly been blowing up in the preseason.
Through two games played, he does have five receptions, but only has 43 yards to show for it. One of those receptions was a 23-yard back shoulder catch, meaning that he has averaged five yards per reception on his other four. A couple of his receptions have gone for losses.
There are many factors to explain why Bryant hasn’t been a dynamic presence yet in the preseason, virtually all of which should be fairly obvious. For one thing, he has barely played with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback yet. Execution issues have also plagued the Steelers’ preseason offense thus far, particularly on wide receiver screens.
But more simply, he really hasn’t played football in a while, and it is going to take time for him to get back to where he was, let alone before he can become an even greater player than he was when he last took the field for a meaningful game in January 2016.
Fortunately, the more humbled and mature Bryant understands this perfectly well, which is something that Head Coach Mike Tomlin conveyed yesterday during his pre-game press conference, in which he addressed a number of issues.
Regarding his talented third-year wide receiver, Tomlin said that Bryant has “been very good and communicative about knocking the rust off”, meaning that he understands that he is going through a process of getting back into the rhythm of football games and how to compete against defenses.
The head coach said that “you have to respect the time missed”—which included the entirety of the 2016 season—but he added that the wide receiver does just that. I suppose it would be hard not to if you are seeing the evidence first-hand.
I do think that this is something worth keeping in mind as we creep closer to the regular season, because I don’t think that it would be fair for fans to expect Bryant to be the game-changer that they want him to be right from the get-go, catching 40-yard bombs for touchdowns with regularity.
Perhaps he will make some plays right away, but it’s quite possible that it takes him time to build back up to who he was as a football player when he last played. Once he does, however, it would seem that the sky is the limit. He is clearly more devoted to his job than he has ever been, and that includes the simple fact that he appreciates where he is in his process of returning.