PITTSBURGH (AP) – The texts popped into Martavis Bryant’s phone every morning.
And while the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver would prefer to keep their contents private, the fact Ben Roethlisberger sent them at all was nearly as important as the sentiment the quarterback was trying to convey.
There Bryant was spending most of September undergoing counseling in Houston after being suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and half a country away Roethlisberger made it a point to check on Bryant daily even with a myriad of responsibilities of his own.
Bryant “highly appreciated” the gesture, one he doesn’t plan on Roethlisberger having to make again. The mistakes that cost Bryant a quarter of his second NFL season and slowed his momentum after an electric rookie year are behind him.
“I learned from it and now I want to move on from it and put it in the past,” Bryant said Monday.
It’s one of the reasons Bryant decided to spend time with former NBA player and coach John Lucas, who operates a substance abuse recovery facility in Texas, during his league-enforced sabbatical. Working out twice a day while catching passes from his trainer, Bryant was given a fresh perspective while watching the Steelers go 2-2 in his absence.
“It was tough for me to sit and watch but then again I knew I had everybody supporting me,” Bryant said.
Support that came with the underlying caveat: don’t do it again.
Bryant’s rapid ascension up the depth chart last season – when he caught eight touchdowns over the final 10 games – is one of the reasons the Steelers rallied to win the AFC North.
The announcement of his suspension with less than two weeks to go before the 2015 regular season started came as a surprise. His absence robbed the Steelers of one of the best deep threats in the league, an absence exacerbated when Roethlisberger went down with a sprained left knee against St. Louis in Week 3.
Replacement Mike Vick threw for just 124 yards in a 23-20 loss to Baltimore last Thursday, almost all of his completions short, safe routes designed to avoid mistakes.
While Vick did that, the inability to get the ball downfield helped cost the Steelers a chance to bury the Ravens early in the season.
Bryant showed an immediate rapport with Vick during their brief time together during the preseason, with Bryant hauling in a 63-yard rainbow on Vick’s first snap with the team.
“I feel like he has more confidence in me knowing I’m going to be there for him and have his back just like I did for Ben,” Bryant said.
Vick, who endured a far more difficult return after sitting out two years while serving a federal prison sentence for his role in a dog fighting ring, is happy to have the 6-foot-4 Bryant in the huddle. Just not nearly as pleased as Vick is to have Bryant back in the locker room.
“We missed him,” Vick said. “We understood what he was going through and we supported him as a brother.”
While relieved to be back on the practice field, Bryant is taking nothing for granted. Darrius Heyward-Bey was steady while filling in. Asked if he expects to step right back into the starting spot, Bryant shoot his head.
“I have no control over that,” he said.
Maybe, but Bryant believes he has a much stronger grip on his life. His time in Houston was about more than figuring out what went wrong, it was about finding a way to avoid making the same missteps again.
“I think he understands what he’s been through and what the consequence was,” All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “He paid the consequence and he’s ready to move forward.”
So are the Steelers, whose offense should only become more dynamic with a player who averaged 21.1 yards per catch while making opponents pay for spending too much attention to Brown.
“Whatever they need me to do. I’m here to help,” Bryant said. “I’m at practice working hard. If I work hard everything is going to translate to the game.”
NOTES: Linebacker Ryan Shazier practiced on Monday and is hopeful the pinched nerve in his shoulder will be good to go by the time the Steelers play at San Diego next Monday night. … New kicker Chris Boswell said he’s not worried about kicking in treacherous Heinz Field. The Steelers signed Boswell on Saturday after Josh Scobee missed a pair of attempts against the Ravens.
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