PITTSBURGH (AP) Martavis Bryant long ago gave up on the idea of people pronouncing his first name correctly.
Technically, there is – and never has been – an extra ”u,” it’s pronounced ”mar-TAY-vis.” That hasn’t stopped people from calling the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver ”Martavius” over and over again.
Even now, with Bryant on a record-setting touchdown binge, the mix-up continues.
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”I don’t even get mad at it anymore,” Bryant said with a laugh. ”It would be nice if they say it right but it is what it is.”
A few more weeks at the rate Bryant is going and maybe – maybe – he’ll give everyone no choice but to get it right.
Languishing on the inactive list for six long weeks before making his NFL debut, the fourth-round pick has been a revelation. Bryant’s six touchdowns over the last four games are the most in the league over that span, including an 80-yard heave from Ben Roethlisberger last week that was Pittsburgh’s only touchdown in a baffling 20-13 loss to the New York Jets.
Mention to Bryant his six scores are one more than former Clemson teammate and good friend Sammy Watkins of Buffalo – the third overall pick in the draft – and Bryant just shakes his head.
”I didn’t know that,” he said. ”I haven’t really been paying attention.”
Maybe that’s because he’s been too busy running into the end zone. Bryant’s emergence has given Roethlisberger another big-play target to go with star Antonio Brown. With teams often trying to double-cover Brown, the 6-foot-4 dreadlocked Bryant is averaging a gaudy 22.1 yards per catch.
”He’s doing some really good things,” Roethlisberger said. ”He’s been a guy who has helped this offense, and hopefully he’ll continue to grow and keep helping us get better.”
Bryant’s rapid ascension up the depth chart makes it hard to believe he spent the first six games on the inactive list. Bryant didn’t pout even while standing on the sideline in a sweatsuit.
”This isn’t a Cinderella story,” he said in early October.
Maybe not then, but it is quickly becoming one now. Bryant’s first NFL reception was a 35-yard touchdown against Houston on Oct. 20, when he outran a Texans defender and brought the ball in at the back of the end zone before slamming into the stands. It’s been one of Bryant’s few missteps.
His five touchdowns in his first three games matched a league record for the most scoring receptions by a rookie to start his career. Bryant added 10 pounds in the offseason, most of it in his upper body to help him get off the line of scrimmage.
He’s not getting pressed much. More often, defensive backs are giving him plenty of cushion, yet he can still get deep whenever he wants. His touchdown against the Jets came when he aborted his fly pattern and ran a post instead when Roethlisberger was flushed out of the pocket.
”I saw Ben scrambling, I just do what we do in practice when we work on scrambling drills,” Bryant said. ”You should never be surprised. He can throw it anywhere. Ben says just look for the ball when you’re running your route.”
Bryant hasn’t been perfect. Roethlisberger threw his first interception in nearly a month last Sunday when his slant pass to Bryant at the goal line bounced off Bryant’s arms and New York’s Jaiquawn Jarrett grabbed the deflection.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called the play a combination of an aggressive move by the Jets but also a ”little lack of detail” by Bryant. The Steelers can live with the growing pains considering the spectacular results.
”We’re keeping it simple so that he can play fast so he can utilize the skills that he has,” Tomlin said. ”He’s a talented guy. He was a third-year junior when he came out. We’ve had quite a few of those over the years. We feel pretty comfortable about the ability to grow and develop those guys.”
Including Brown, who leads the NFL in receptions and is a lock to make his third Pro Bowl. Where Brown makes plays with his jitterbug moves, Bryant is all long strides and leaping ability. He can box out defenders for the ball or simply run by them. His scores have varied in distance from 2 yards to 80.
”I’m not shocked at all,” Bryant said. ”I had belief in myself and trust in my ability. So I’m just trying to add on it and try to get better.”
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