Steelers rookies adjusting to supporting roles
Oct. 09, 2014
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Martavis Bryant can feel the urge to raise his hand whenever the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver hears a member of the coaching staff talk about the team's need to become more aggressive in the red zone.
Yet the 6-foot-4 rookie stays quiet, even if his sizable frame would present the kind of matchup advantages the Steelers are looking for in tight spaces.
"I think about (speaking up) from time to time but at the same time it ain't going to get me nowhere," Bryant said. "It's going out and proving what you can do."
Five months after being taken in the fourth round of the draft to give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the big target he's lacked since Plaxico Burress bolted nearly a decade ago, Bryant is still waiting for his chance. For the first time since he started playing football at age 6, Bryant spends his week on the scout team and Sundays watching from the sideline in sweat pants after being placed on the inactive list.
It's a streak that's unlikely to change heading into Sunday's game at Cleveland (2-2). Not playing when he's healthy is weird, but Bryant understands the dynamic. He's young, raw and stuck at the bottom of a depth chart behind more experienced players like Justin Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey, both of whom are excellent blockers on special teams, a skill Bryant is still developing.
"Everything is not a perfect Cinderella story," Bryant said. "I'm still a rookie. I'm just going to patiently wait and whatever happens, happens. When my time comes I'll be ready and take advantage like I always do."
Bryant's got plenty of company. After spending most of the preseason talking about how vital first-year players will be in helping the Steelers (3-2) keep pace in the AFC North, only rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier has earned consistent playing time, and he's out indefinitely with a sprained right knee.
Finding balance between their own internal drive and their current place on the roster is difficult for Bryant, running back/wide receiver Dri Archer and defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt. While Bryant is still waiting for his first snap in a regular season game, Archer and Tuitt have found their way on to the field, just not as frequently as they would like.
An ankle injury in the opener against the Browns has slowed Archer's progress. Taken in the third round because of his versatility and 4.27-second time in the 40-yard dash, Archer has yet to flash the explosiveness that made him one of the most dynamic players in the country during his college career at Kent State. Archer's five offensive touches have gone for a total of 13 yards and he's averaging just 16.3 yards on kickoff returns.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley praised Archer's progress and blamed poor blocking as the culprit in why a pair of plays designed specifically for Archer failed in last week's sluggish 17-9 win over Jacksonville.
"He's a good runner inside and out," Haley said. "He's got very good vision and he's putting the ball where it's supposed to go."
Even if it's not to the end zone. Archer stressed he's "just a young guy learning the process," one that includes watching and learning. While technically a running back, he's worked extensively with the wide receivers as Haley searches for ways to get Archer free in space. The big plays haven't happened yet, but Archer believes they're coming.
So does Bryant, even if it may not be until next year. A shoulder injury at the end of training camp didn't help matters. Relegated to the scout team, Bryant's only exposure to what the first team is doing comes during video sessions. He does his best to hit the books, but it's not the same as standing next to Roethlisberger in the huddle.
"I learn stuff by doing it, looking at the piece of paper and studying it," he said. "It's hard to stay on top of everything. I try to do the best I can, at the same time I've got to learn my craft."
It's a phrase echoed by rookies up and down the roster. Measuring progress can be difficult. While Tuitt is making a case for more snaps behind veterans Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas, he says every good play highlighted by coaches is quickly followed by "the worst play" ever.
The goal is to find some consistency. Until that happens, he'll bide his time and put in the work. It's what the guys playing in front of him did to earn their spot. Now it's his turn to serve as an apprentice.
"The (veterans) help when I ask them to," Tuitt said. "At the same time they went their own way when they were rookies. Now it's time for me to learn my own way."
NOTES: Shazier practiced in a limited capacity Thursday, his first since spraining the MCL in his right knee against Carolina last month. ... S Shamarko Thomas did not practice.
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