Bryant Still Reeling 'Em In

Steelers' reigning Rookie of the Year showing every reason this spring to expect an even better sophomore season.

PITTSBURGH -- The first thing you notice about Martavis Bryant as he begins his sprint toward the pot of gold waiting for him at the end of another Ben Roethlisberger rainbow is the blonde hair.

Maybe it's just the tips, but they're blonde and they're flying from out of his helmet like Secretariat's tail during the stretch run of the Belmont Stakes.

"I had those when I was in high school," Bryant said of the colored braids. "I just wanted to go back to it. I got tired of it being red."

Was his hair red last year?

All most of us noticed was the size and speed and the touchdowns. He scored one on the first NFL pass thrown to him, a 35-yard touchdown on a Monday night against the Houston Texans. That occurred after six games in which Bryant had been made inactive by the team.

The Steelers were 3-3 while Bryant was finding his rookie legs, but once the Steelers put him on the field they went 8-2, before losing in the first round of the playoffs.

In those 10 games, Bryant caught 26 passes for 549 yards and eight touchdowns. His average of 21.12 yards per catch led all NFL players with more than four catches.

Here are the historical footnotes that went along with making 20-plus catches at 21.12 yards per catch:

* Last Steelers player to do so was Theo Bell in 1980, 29 catches at 25.8 per.

* Last Steelers rookie to do so was Ron Shanklin in 1970, 30 catches at 23.0 per.

* Last NFL rookie to do so was Houston's Chris Sanders in 1995, 35 catches at 23.5 per.

Bryant had the two longest Steelers receptions last season, a 94-yarder against the Cincinnati Bengals and an 80-yarder against the New York Jets. He also had three of the top five (52-yarder vs. Indianapolis Colts) and four of the top 10 (45-yarder vs. Jets).

Bryant's favorite?

"My personal favorite was against Cincinnati, the 94-yard touchdown," Bryant said of a fourth-quarter heave by Roethlisberger out of his own end zone that clinched a come-from-behind Dec. 7 win.

Roethlisberger is still heaving bombs to Bryant this spring, and the only difference seems to be the blonde hair.

Why did he change that after such a smashing success of a rookie season?

"I'm not superstitious about my hair," he said. "I just decided to change it."

Apparently, as long as Roethlisberger's still the quarterback it doesn't matter what else changes.

"He's the best quarterback I done ever had," Bryant said. "I watched him on TV when I was in college, but seeing how he throws in person was unbelievable."

In what way?

"Ben doesn't pat the ball when he throws it. He just holds it and releases it and zoom," Bryant said Tuesday following a practice in which Roethlisberger heaved two deep balls to Bryant, who reeled in both by flashing that extra gear he has while running under passes.

In three seasons at Clemson, the 6-4 Bryant caught 13 touchdown passes and averaged 22.2 yards per catch with Tajh Boyd at quarterback. Boyd is now struggling to hold off Devin Gardner -- who was drafted and cut by another team this spring as a wide receiver -- to become the Steelers' fourth quarterback at training camp.

But with Roethlisberger, "the sky's the limit," Bryant said of his 2015 potential.

"I'm working harder this year because I'm more prepared. I know what's coming this time," Bryant said. "And the coaches have trusted me just from my preparation and me working on my technique. I'm learning from Coach (Richard) Mann, learning from Coach (Todd) Haley, learning from Ben, learning from A.B. (Antonio Brown) and listening to Coach (Mike) Tomlin."

How can Bryant top his rookie year?

"Preparation and working harder," he said with a shrug. "Everybody in this group works hard. Everyone wants to be great. It's a team that likes to grind together and let everything fall into place."

And when the team tires of grinding, it can just go over the top. The guy with the blonde hair will be there.

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