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Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant says big plays will come

Chris Adamski
| Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, 8:31 p.m.

Martavis Bryant insists his drug-related, off-field problems are “all behind me.”

The conditioning associated with playing football? “I'm back into it.”

Bryant swears he's a much better receiver than he was when he was a raw rookie back in 2014, too.

So why hasn't the production been there this season?

“As far as the explosion plays, we haven't hit them like we used to,” Bryant said before Wednesday's practice. “But it's still a long season, and you've still got to keep working. In due time, it will come.”

Through four games this season, Bryant has 10 catches for 183 yards and one touchdown.

Not bad — but rather pedestrian compared to what was expected out of the dynamic 25-year-old.

To put Bryant's 2017 statistics through four games into perspective, Bryant in December 2015 had a single game in which he had 10 catches, and a month earlier had a game in which he had almost as many yards as he has this season (178 in a win against Cleveland).

He also has had five games (including playoffs) in his career in which he had two touchdowns.

But so far this season, Bryant has not eclipsed three receptions in a game, he has scored in only one and he has had more than 48 receiving yards just once.

For his part, Bryant is unconcerned the trend will continue.

“Sometimes you have your misses, and sometimes you make them,” he said. “So you just go to continue to work at it. What it comes down to is we are going to hit them sooner or later.”

The narrative surrounding Bryant's slow start could easily be flipped if for a few inches here and there. During each of the past three games there was a play that, if added to Bryant's stat line, could have dramatically altered his season production:

• Three weeks ago at Heinz Field against Minnesota, Bryant drew a 49-yard pass interference penalty

• On the first snap from scrimmage from the Steelers 25 on Sept. 24 in Chicago, Bryant was targeted 40 yards downfield by Ben Roethlisberger and had a nearly 5-yard cushion beyond Bears cornerback Marcus Cooper Sr.

• On Sunday in Baltimore, Roethlisberger overthrew an open Bryant for what would have been an easy 41-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter

If those three plays are completed, Bryant's season stats look more, well, Bryant-like: 13 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns in four games.

That compares more favorably to the four-game starts Bryant had for his other two NFL seasons.

Bryant, of course, was suspended for the 2016 season. Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin believe the rust accumulated during the time away from football is affecting Bryant.

“There's some re-acclimating, if you will,” Tomlin said. “He's not pretending that there's not, and I think that has been helpful throughout the process. He's done a great job of communicating and working on a day-to-day basis, so from that standpoint, it's made the process probably a more fluid one than it could be.”

Said Roethlisberger: “He's getting close. … I like the progress that we've made. I don't think anyone expected it to be an overnight thing. It was kind of going to come in steps, and I think we've been taking those steps and we've been communicating well. And he's been making plays, and I need to connect with him a couple times on some big balls.”

For his part, Bryant maintains he is past his off-field issues and is focused on his profession each day he comes to work.

“I'm going out and having fun (on the football field),” Bryant said. “I'm making plays when the ball comes to me. I've just got to do a better job with my blocking. But as far as with my route-running and stuff, I'm doing pretty good.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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