Steelers OTA 1: Bryant Back

The return of Martavis Bryant heads our Steelers OTA Notebook from Day 1.

Martavis Bryant was the star attraction, both on and off the field, at the Pittsburgh Steelers' first OTA practice of the spring.

Bryant put his new, muscle-bound body to the test by running under passes with the first team, and then put his clear eyes/full heart on display for a media mob as he genially answered every question put to him.

Some of his most important comments:

* "Everything is earned, not given."

* "I am a totally different person compared to how I used to be."

* "I know this is my last chance. I have put the right people around me. I have the right things in place so that I can succeed and maintain my sobriety."

* "I changed my whole life around, compared to how it used to be. I developed better habits. I also (changed) who I hang around with. I am a family man. I just had a son. He is seven-weeks old. After I leave here, I am going straight home to him. Really developing my life and getting back on track."

Bryant, of course, was suspended for the 2016 season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. The league is calling Bryant's return "conditional," but, of course, Bryant knows his status is conditional with the Steelers regardless of the NFL's label.

On the field, Bryant appears to be in the best shape of his life. He had told Sports Illustrated in January that working out "harder than I ever have" over the winter caused him to "be bigger than I ever was." And in a recent video of his 40-yard dash, he was timed in under 4.3 seconds.

Drafted as a 6-3 3/4, 211-pounder with 4.42 speed, Bryant said he played at 215 in 2015 but was recently up to 230 before checking in this spring at 225.

He also said he hasn't smoked marijuana in "a whole year now" and that "maintaining that is nothing."

To that end, Bryant will be tested two to three times per week and will meet with a counselor every Wednesday. That counselor will report back to the league. 

"So as long as I handle my business, everything is good," Bryant said. 

His infant son, Bryant maintains, will help things stay that way.

"I go home to him every day, seeing the smile on his face, and I am just a happier person," he said. "My family is happy. Everyone around me is happy, seeing what I am doing and how I have changed my ways." 

Bryant was welcomed back to the team first, he said, by Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster

"They have been a big help to me," Bryant said.

And the rest of the team?

"They have been pretty good," he said. "Everybody is just happy to see me and to know that I am doing well, and doing what I am supposed to do and what is required by the league, handling my business as a man. They can tell that I changed my ways. I am a family man now. Family is everything. My team is my family as well."

BEN OLD BUT REJUVENATED

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the player who benefits most from a big, fast, downfield target, may have been Bryant's most disappointed teammate when the suspension was announced last year. On Tuesday, Roethlisberger seemed pleased with Bryant.

"He looks good. He looks like he's in great shape," Roethlisberger said. "I don’t know if we connected on a pass today in practice but before practice we got some work in. We will keep trying to develop and get back to what we had before last year."

Roethlisberger was probed for further comment, or judgment, on the prodigal Bryant, but Roethlisberger said, "Who am I to judge him? Only one man can judge, and that’s the man upstairs. We will accept him here with open arms. We just hope he wants to be here and is happy to be here and he gives everything he has to this franchise and organization."

As for Roethlisberger attending the voluntary practice after hinting at retirement in the aftermath of January's loss in the AFC Championship Game, he said "I am here on Day One. You saw me out there taking every rep I am supposed to take, and then some. I actually took some of the rookies' today. I am 110 percent committed, like I said I was."

Roethlisberger added, "I love this city. I love these guys. I love being out here. Football is a passion of mine. It's what I do and it's what I love to do."

Has he given the team more than a one-year commitment?

"I never commit to anybody more than one year," he said. "I think that’s what you should always commit to this sport, because if we look past this year then we are cheating ourselves. We are cheating other people. We need to give this year everything that we can and everything that we have, because ultimately that’s what we have, right here and right now."

Roethlisberger turned 35 in March. He's behind only James Harrison, 39, on a team that lists six players in their thirties this spring. OL coach Mike Munchak teased Roethlisberger that he might be the guy closest to his age on the team.

"I was a sophomore in high school when JuJu (Smith-Schuster) was born," Roethlisberger said. "That makes you feel really old. To be out here playing football does rejuvenate you. It does make you feel a little young again."

MORE ACTION, LESS TALK

The NFL can grind you up pretty good. Ask Ross Cockrell.

However, the young, loquacious, even sagacious cornerback might not provide the in-depth answer he would have last year. He's now a grizzled vet after being given the low tender as a restricted free agent and told he may be replaced as the starting cornerback.

"Yeah, they told me," Cockrell said. "All I could do was appreciate the honesty and come back ready to show what I'm really worth."

The Steelers did sign one free agent, Coty Sensabaugh, while the highest draft pick is third-rounder Cameron Sutton. Cockrell lined up Tuesday as the starter at his old position with the focus of maintaining the spot and intercepting more passes. 

Cockrell didn't intercept a pass last season after picking off two as a part-time starter in 2015, his first season with the Steelers.

Is Cockrell highly motivated this season?

"I'm motivated to win the Super Bowl, so I'm ready to go," he said.

Is he more about action than talking at this point?

"Yes."

WATT THROWN INTO FIRE

First-round draft pick T.J. Watt was the right outside linebacker next to Cam Heyward and most of the rest of the usual first team Tuesday. Last year's starter, Harrison, watched from the sideline in sweats.

Watt was also introduced to offensive left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who at one point threw Watt to the ground like a rag doll.

"It's definitely a lot faster, a lot crisper and just a lot bigger bodies," Watt said in a comparison to rookie minicamp. "It's a lot cleaner, though. It's a lot better for me because you've got the calls on the inside. The rookie minicamp was a little bit more difficult because you were learning the playbook in a few days and a lot of guys were uneasy on what the calls were. It's a lot easier to have (Ryan) Shazier in the middle making the playcall so I know what I'm doing."

Watt was asked about Harrison and he said all the right things about the team's most experienced player.

"You know he's the man around here. That's how it is," Watt said. "I respect the heck out of him and all that he's done. I'll try to learn from him."

Watt already has great appreciation for the city of Pittsburgh and was proud to show it off this past weekend.

"I had my parents and my girlfriend out," he said. "I took them around, took them up the Incline, took them to the Point, took them around the city. I love this city. My dad has his fair share of Primanti Brothers, too."

Watt said he was surprised to be playing with the first team so soon. 

"I came into camp just expecting to work my butt off and play as well as possible," he said. "I didn't have any expectations because you never know. You could come in here with the ones one day, the threes the next day. I'm just trying to get out on that field, learn as much as possible, play as best as I can, and then go back home and learn the playbook some more."

(For more chatter about Steelers OTA 1, click here for the South Side message board.)


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