Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin agree Martavis Bryant seems focused, happy
Mike Tomlin has witnessed his share of off-field drama this season, the national anthem controversy in Chicago being the biggest inferno among the fires seemingly engulfing the Steelers on a weekly basis.
That was followed by Antonio Brown’s bout with a Gatorade cooler in Baltimore and Ben Roethlisberger’s flippant response that “maybe I don’t have it anymore” after a five-interception outing against Jacksonville.
Then came the Martavis Bryant trade report following the Steelers’ 19-13 win at Kansas City on Sunday night, which the Steelers coach equated to a smolder more than a flaming combustion on the incineration scale.
“I don’t know that this is a legitimate distraction,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “Martavis has been very open about the fact that it’s a non-issue for him. We believe him, so we’re moving forward.”
Bryant addressed the NFL Network report Monday, saying he did not request a trade and is happy playing for the Steelers.
Tomlin said Bryant did not come to him expressing any displeasure with the team.
“I’ve had good, fluid communication with Martavis throughout this process, like I have with other players,” Tomlin said. “He was a big contributor to our efforts on Sunday. He was excited like everybody else. I don’t know where these reports come from. Sometimes they come from family members or people close to them. Sometimes they come from agents.
“I don’t judge him or my relationship with him based on things said by others. He appears to be happy and focused.”
The report coincided with Bryant playing a season-low 52 percent of the offensive snaps against Kansas City. Bryant had two receptions on three targets for 27 yards. For the season, he has caught 17 of 34 targets for 231 yards and a touchdown.
After six games in his first season back from a yearlong suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Bryant is fourth on the Steelers in receptions, with one fewer catch than tight end Jesse James and two more receptions than rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Bryant played 33 snaps, compared to Smith-Schuster’s 44, against the Chiefs.
“I think he’s doing great,” Tomlin said. “We’ve outlined this pretty regularly over recent weeks. I like where he is. He’s acknowledging that getting back on the train is a process.”
Bryant is averaging 13.6 yards per reception, which is about four yards fewer than his average in his first two NFL seasons. He also has just one of the Steelers’ seven receiving touchdowns this season. He had 14 in his first 21 NFL games.
“Obviously, his numbers aren’t what he was hoping and expecting,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on his weekly 93.7 FM radio segment. “He’s been gone for a whole year. It’s not like he missed four games, six games, eight games. It’s been a whole year. That’s tough. I’m happy to have him back as a teammate, a football player, and I’m excited for what is going to come for him down the road.”
Any dissatisfaction with his role in the offense would keep Bryant in line with the team’s other two playmaking stars, Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell. Brown’s attack on the Gatorade cooler came after Roethlisberger didn’t target him on a third-down pass. Last week, Bell indicated the Steelers weren’t running the ball enough.
Coincidence or not, Bell and Brown are the first teammates in NFL history with at least 700 scrimmage yards apiece through six games. Bell has 706 and Brown 700. Perhaps Bryant merely wants a piece of the action.
“I assume all of those guys down there want that,” Tomlin said. “I don’t think that’s earth-shattering or ground-breaking news when people want the ball or want more playing time or want more clarity in terms of their roles. I think those are natural human conditions. I’m surprised when they don’t want those things.”
Like Tomlin, Roethlisberger hasn’t seen a trace of dissatisfaction or lack of effort from Bryant.
“None whatsoever,” he said. “A matter of fact, this week I thought he gave more effort in the run game, in blocking for other guys.”
Blocking is an area in which Smith-Schuster has impressed coaches, and it has contributed to his increased playing time.
Tomlin said Bryant is improving as a blocker.
“Week in and week out, he’s playing faster and gaining more detail in his execution,” he said. “I think it’s reasonable to expect that because he’s been working hard.”