Although the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t necessarily counting on rookie receiver Martavis Bryant to become an integral part of the offense in his first year, Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense would certainly like to see him force his way into the equation.
His performances thus far in the first three preseason games have produced mixed results, with some highs that showcase his raw potential, as well as some lows that forego the potential and just remind us that he is still raw.
The Steelers’ last game against the Philadelphia Eagles provided a bit more of both. While he didn’t make any egregious mistakes, he did have a few missed opportunities that show either a lack of understanding or a lack of awareness and effort.
On the plus side, he did return a punt 10 yards toward the end of the game that helped set up a touchdown drive, which he himself finished off. But on with the examples.
Early on in Bryant’s game time, the Steelers were facing a third and seven near midfield when Bruce Gradkowski looked in his direction deep, seeking the home run ball. While the pass was underthrown, causing Bryant to let up, he made little effort to work back to the ball while the safety closed in on him.
For a 6’4” wide receiver whose primary function outside of the red zone will be deep balls, you would like to at least see Bryant try to elevate on this pass, even if the throw wasn’t ideal. He made the effort in the last game, even if it didn’t pan out.
The next pass that went in his direction was probably the highlight of his young career thus far. He took a comeback route and spun off the reception, leaving the cornerback behind him, then proceeded to showcase his speed for a 25-yard gain, with about 18 yards coming after the catch. The safety only narrowly managed to lead him out of bounds.
A few plays later, the Steelers got a free play when an Eagles defender jumped offside. Gradkowski was hoping to connect with Bryant on another deep ball, but he got a case of the alligator arms and didn’t stretch out enough. This was a catchable ball, in my estimation, but it was on a free play anyway.
Late in the game, the Steelers found themselves with a first and goal opportunity from the three-yard line. Trailing 17 points with under three minutes remaining, they naturally kept the ball in the air by this point.
Gradkowski’s first target of choice, unsurprisingly, was the rookie Bryant, who at times seemed unbeatable in the red zone during training camp practices. The quarterback got off the jump ball, but Bryant couldn’t come down with it, despite elevating.
This case it wasn’t a case of alligator arms, but rather having flippers for hands. While the cornerback was well-positioned on the play, it doesn’t seem he was able to get a hand on it. There is some uncertainty, but in my view, this looks like a ball he should have had, and seems to be a case of lack of body control.
Two plays later, he did bring in the easy touchdown. The Steelers sent the tight end, aligned to Bryant’s inside, ahead into the end zone after giving a false step toward the middle of the field. This allowed Bryant to cross underneath and in front of his coverage, using his body to position himself for the reception.