A tall wide receiver who finally showed up wearing a Steelers uniform carrying a reputable resume was not nearly tall enough in his first practice with them.
There isn’t a receiver in the NFL who could have come down with some of those passes that tryout quarterbacks last week were throwing 5 feet over the heads of their targets. Maybe it was jitters of being in their first pro camp and still unsigned.
None of it seemed to make rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant nervous or even disappointed.
“It’s a new start for me, and I want to make a great impression,” Bryant said.
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A few people already made one on Bryant. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will be more accurate with his throws than those uncorking those wild passes, called Bryant 10 minutes after the Steelers drafted him a week ago in the fourth round.
“He just said he’s happy for me to be here,” Bryant said.
Roethlisberger, at least, is happy with someone he can virtually see eye-to-eye. The two hooked up with some routes last week when Roethlisberger and other veterans worked out with the rookies at the team’s training facility.
Roethlisberger long has asked for a tall receiver but he’s not had one that broke into the top four at the position since Plaxico Burress left after the 2005 season. While his Indianapolis combine height of 6-feet-31/2 inches puts Bryant 11/2 inches shorter than Clemson advertised in 2013, he’s plenty tall enough and fast enough at 4.41 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) to get the job done.
The rest is up to him, which will include work on catching the ball away from his chest, a habit noted in predraft analyses.
“I can catch, I’m not worried about what people say,” said Bryant, who caught 42 for an average of 19.7 yards for Clemson in 2013 as a junior. “I’m working on catching it outside, but as long as you catch it and don’t drop it, people can’t really talk about it.”
Coach Mike Tomlin got on him in his first practice, not for dropping footballs but for being winded.
“He’s messing with me a lot … how I’ve been getting tired and stuff like that.”
Bryant said he liked how Tomlin kidded around with him. He soon will learn that also can be Tomlin’s way of sending a message.
There is a job open for someone to start catching footballs in real games for the Steelers since they lost three of their top four wide receivers over the past 14 months, two since March. Antonio Brown is the only fixture of a group that also includes Markus Wheaton, who had six receptions as a rookie, and newcomer Lance Moore, who caught a bunch in New Orleans the past eight seasons. Moore will play in the slot, so it figures that either Wheaton or Bryant will become the split end, where Mike Wallace and then Emmanuel Sanders played.
“I’m just going to come in and work hard and whatever happens, happens,” Bryant said. “I can’t control that, it’s in the coaches’ hands.”
His position coach sounds as if he already has been won over.
“We had him here for a visit and we bonded then,” said Richard Mann, who has seen his share of NFL receivers. “We didn’t know we were going to get him. We didn’t think we were going to get him, but we got him, and I’m delighted.”
The Steelers won their two most recent Super Bowls with no contributing wide receivers taller than 6 feet, but Mann, like Roethlisberger, thought they needed to get taller.
“We needed a guy different from what we have,” Mann said.
“I have been kind of campaigning for a big receiver this whole process. We lost Jerricho Cotchery. Jerricho did the dirty work, as I call it, on the strong side, which is where most of the running game is done. We just don’t have a guy with the stature and the makeup to be that guy.
“Hopefully, what we expect is that this guy can pick up some of that slack and we will go to work and teach him what he needs to learn.
The Steelers thought Bryant was a second-round talent but with the draft so deep in receivers, he fell to them in the fourth. Bryant might have benefited from playing one more season at Clemson because he really played only one after backing up 2013 first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins.
But Bryant has two young daughters and a mother who he said took care of him his entire life.
“It’s time for me to start taking care of her.”