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Kevin Gorman: Steelers WR Martavis Bryant is right but in wrong way

Kevin Gorman
| Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant looks to avoid the  Chiefs' Marcus Peters in the first quarter Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant looks to avoid the Chiefs' Marcus Peters in the first quarter Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium.

Martavis Bryant managed to do the unimaginable after the Cincinnati game, becoming a bigger target for Steelers fans than the volatile Vontaze Burfict.

Not only did the Steelers' receiver continue to criticize his role in the offense, he did so at the expense of rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, and reiterated his request for a trade — this time via Instagram.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is right in his assertion Bryant “was out of bounds” with both his message and his method.

“It's OK to want more playing time and to want to be a central reason why we're successful, provided you relay that in an appropriate way,” Tomlin said. “Social media is not an appropriate way.”

But Bryant is right about this much: The Steelers are wasting his talent.

Now, I'm not supporting the public pouting of a player who twice was suspended by the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy and made negative headlines in the wake of the team's two biggest victories.

But Bryant is the type of target Ben Roethlisberger begged for, a tall target with breakaway speed. Only the second player in NFL history to score two touchdowns of at least 88 yards in his first two seasons.

And the Steelers aren't taking advantage of his big-play ability, targeting Bryant only five times with passes in the past two games and putting him on pace for career-low receiving averages.

As a rookie, Bryant set an NFL record for most receiving touchdowns in a player's first four games, with six, and the Steelers' record for touchdowns (14) in his first 16 regular-season games.

This season, Bryant has only 18 catches for 234 yards and one touchdown. He had one catch for 3 yards against the Bengals, a team he tortured for 21 receptions for 257 yards and three touchdowns in three previous regular-season games. That's not counting his circus catch-and-flip touchdown in the 2015 AFC wild-card game.

“It's irrelevant whether or not his gripe is legitimate,” Tomlin said. “The means he's going about it is inappropriate. It creates situations like this, where I'm wasting time out of my day fielding questions from (the media). That's why it's an issue.”

Speaking of social media, Bryant isn't a malingerer, as some media members suggested. Comparisons to Limas Sweed — a second-round bust who had 20 catches in two seasons with the Steelers — are simply absurd.

Tomlin acknowledged Bryant has “worked diligently” and had a strong week of practice. Roethlisberger said Bryant is “putting forth the effort.”

“I know it seems crazy, and you guys might be rolling your eyes,” Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show on 93.7 FM, “but he is a good teammate.”

Instead, Bryant sounds selfish, especially with his comments to ESPN, by putting his personal achievements ahead of the team.

If there's a positive to come of this latest saga, it could be that Bryant's boiling over leads to conversations that clear up his frustrations. Bryant would be wise to stop spouting off on social media and start talking to Tomlin and then to his quarterback.

There's a reason Tomlin made it clear the Steelers won't cede to Bryant's trade demands: He's a tremendous talent, one they missed last season. And, like Bryant, the Steelers offense has yet to live up to its potential, especially in the red zone.

“I'm excited for what can come,” Roethlisberger said. “I know people are upset because you don't talk about a teammate, but he can help us. I'm not giving up on him and I hope he's not giving up on himself. So, let's find a way to use him.”

Now, the Steelers need to put a method behind that message.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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