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Bryant’s return opens up Steelers offense

By Justin McGonigle

Martavis Bryant hasn’t donned a black and gold uniform in over a year. That all stopped on May 23rd when Bryant returned from his yearlong suspension. Bryant was quickly reinserted into the Steelers top unit, split out wide opposite of All-Pro, Antonio Brown. Bryant who was suspended for the entire 2016 season is a welcome sight to a Steelers offense that struggled at times last season.

“It’s definitely appreciated, but I didn’t expect anything, “Bryant said about running with the first team offense. “I’m here just to be a team player and do what I got to do to help out the team.”

Without Bryant the Steelers faced a lot of adversity at wide receiver last season. Sammie Coates was believed to be the man who would fill the void as a deep threat. After recording 6 receptions for 139 yards against the Jets in the fifth week of the season Coates became non-existent. Injuries and mental short comings doomed Coates and he only recorded two catches the rest of the season.

Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bay also missed much of the season with injuries and the Steelers offense took a step back from 2015. Their points per game dropped from 26.4 to 24.9 and without a reliable receiver next to Brown he often found himself double or triple teamed. Brown went from 136 receptions for 1834 yards to 106 and 1284 respectively.

Bryant was granted a conditional reinstatement by Commissioner Roger Goodell last month. Bryant face league drug testing 2 to 3 times a week, and mandatory trips to a therapist once a week. Any slip up could cost Bryant his NFL career.

“I know it’s my last chance. I put the right people around me. I got the right people, things set up to help me succeed and maintain my sobriety,” Bryant said. “As long as I continue to pass my test and do what I’ve got to do for my family and take care of my business here, everything will be just fine.”

Bryant slipped to the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft even though his size and speed is always coveted in the league. Teams knew of multiple failed drug tests at Clemson but the Steelers figured the risk was worth the reward if Bryant could mature. They quickly were reminded of Bryant’s struggles when he was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season.

“I developed better habits,” Bryant said. “Also who I hang around. I’m a family man.”

Ben Roethlisberger was critical of Bryant when his latest suspension was announced, saying that he was very disappointed in Bryant and that he felt betrayed. His quarterback had this to say about his return:

“He looks good, “Roethlisberger said after practice. “He came back and it looks like he’s in great shape. I don’t know if we connected on a pass in practice, but before practice we got some work in.

When asked about what Bryant can do to prove he’s changed, Roethlisberger said, “The biggest thing he can prove is that he can stay on the field. We know what he can bring. But who am I to judge him? Only one man can judge him, and that’s the man upstairs. We will accept him with open arms and hope he wants to be here and is happy to be here and gives everything he has to this organization. “

Only time will tell if Bryant has really changed for the best.

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