Martavis Bryant walked off the Steelers practice field for the first time in 16 months, 10 pounds heavier yet looking and sounding as if the weight of the world was off his shoulders.
“I changed my whole life around compared to how I used to be,” the former Clemson star said.
Of course, the gifted wide receiver made promises before, to Ben Roethlisberger and other teammates after the NFL suspended him four games to start the 2015 season. Then, he violated those promises and the NFL drug policy again and was suspended for a full year.
Why should any of them believe him now? There’s only one way for that trust to return; Martavis Bryant will have to earn it. He says he knows that.
“Everything is earned, not given,” Bryant said. “All I can do is just take care of my business and do what I have to do off the field. And as long as I do that they will see the change and everything how I changed my ways.
“As long as I pass my test, go to meetings and maintain my sobriety, that will be fine. … I know it’s my last chance.”
Bryant had a son seven weeks ago. The child is here in Pittsburgh, where Bryant will live, be drug tested two or three times a week and attend a meeting with a therapist twice a week. One slip-up, and it all would come crashing down.
“I developed better habits,” Bryant stated. “Also who I hang around. I’m a family man.”
Bryant’s last game was one of his best – he caught nine passes for 154 yards in the Steelers’ 23-16 playoff loss at Denver that ended their 2015 season on Jan. 17, 2016. He was suspended for the second time by the NFL two months later for one year.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2014, he did not play as a rookie until the seventh game of the season. It did not take long after that for him to establish himself as a game-breaker.
Bryant’s troubles began when the NFL suspended him four games to start the 2015 season. He did not play until the sixth game. He finished that season with 50 receptions, a 15.3 yards per catch average and six touchdowns in 11 games.
A year ago, Roethlisberger talked about how disappointed he was that Bryant was suspended for a year after the two talked often and the receiver promised his quarterback he was on the straight and narrow.
They spoke recently upon Bryant’s return but he said the two have not really had that “sitdown” talk.
“He looks good,” Roethlisberger said. “We will accept him with open arms and hope he wants to be here and is happy to be here and gives everything he has to this organization.”
Bryant said that’s all he can do – show them.
“I put the right people around me, I got the right things set up in place to help me succeed and maintain my sobriety. … It’s been a whole year since I smoked.”
He has no beef with the NFL drug program as it now exists.
“Rules are set in place, I just have to abide by them. The situation I was in was on me, nobody else.”