"Before I get into outlining Detroit and what's going on with the elements of that matchup, I did want to take a little time to talk about Martavis Bryant and his situation …"
And so it began, today's Mike Tomlin news conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, with the Steelers coach going on to highlight the weekly sideshow du jour, as he continued with …
"… Just to provide great clarity and maybe answer any questions you guys might have. I really have no desire to sit up here with a catcher's mitt and field questions about Martavis and his social media habits, to be quite honest with you."
As everyone is aware, Bryant is the Steelers' former No. 4 draft pick who was suspended for a year and missed all of the 2016 season for violating the league's drug policy, and after being reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell he is third on the team so far in 2017 with 18 catches for 234 yards (13.0 average) and one touchdown.
Because he caught 50 passes for 765 yards (15.3 average) and six touchdowns during the 2015 regular season, and then another 14 balls for 183 yards (13.1 average) and one touchdown in the two playoff games that followed, his agent apparently was getting impatient with Bryant's role in the offense. Following the Steelers' win in Kansas City, it surfaced that "a source close to Bryant" revealed the receiver was unhappy and seeking to be traded, and then in an Instagram post following the win over the Bengals, Bryant reiterated his desire to be traded and had some unflattering things to say about rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster.
"We've invested a lot in Martavis since we drafted him," said Tomlin. "He's not available via a trade. We've invested a lot. We've covered a lot of ground. It's obvious we still have more ground to cover with him, because we're having a conversation about him that's not football-related. But we have (invested a lot). He's done a lot in the period of time he's been here in terms of improving, not only as a player but as a man, but we still have a ways to go."
Tomlin then added, "He was out of bounds with some of his actions in terms of the things he said on social media. It will be dealt with, appropriately so. That ball is in my court. I haven't visited with him yet. To be quite honest with you, I haven't visited with him yet because I've had bigger fish to fry. The preparation and overall readiness in getting ready for this opportunity vs. the Detroit Lions really takes precedence. They're coming off a bye. I'll visit with (Bryant) at some point, and when I do I'll rain down my judgment and we'll move forward. He's a good guy to work with in the building and has been. We've been very clear about this process of getting re-acclimated to us. It's not an easy one, but he has worked diligently. I like his approach, but he said some things when he's not around us that are somewhat of a distraction. And I say 'somewhat' because we're having to field questions about it, not because it's high on my damn agenda. But because I am fielding questions it is somewhat of a distraction, and so we'll deal with it as such and move on."
After report following the game in Kansas City, Bryant met the media and denied he was seeking a trade, said he was happy to be here, etc., etc. Yesterday, Bryant wasn't at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex because he was sick and had a doctor's appointment.
When asked what type of discipline he might hand down, Tomlin said, "I'm going to leave that between he and I. I don't believe that's for public consumption. I don't believe that's appropriate. I believe that's one of the reasons he and I are having this discussion. It's OK to want more playing time and to want to be a central reason why we're successful, provided you relay that in an appropriate way. Social media is not the appropriate way."
Throughout this season, Bryant has worked hard in practice each day, and during games he has been a willing and enthusiastic blocker in the running game. But his production in the passing game hasn't been up to his expectations, with only two of his 18 catches going for 25-yards-or longer, and with his statistics during the last three games on the decline.
While Bryant caught a season-best five passes against Jacksonville on Oct. 8, his average on those was just 4.2 yards apiece; the next week in Kansas City, he had two receptions for 27 yards; and against the Bengals he had one catch for 3 yards. On one occasion vs. Cincinnati, Bryant was open in the end zone only to have Ben Roethlisberger throw incomplete to Antonio Brown; and on a deep route he had inside leverage only to have the ball thrown to the outside.
"It's irrelevant whether his gripe is legitimate," said Tomlin. "The means by which he's going about it is inappropriate. It creates situations like this, where I'm wasting time out of my day fielding questions from you guys. That's why it's an issue. I'll discuss the particulars regarding his role with him, as it should be. Not with you."
In his final comments on Bryant, Tomlin seemed to offer a ray of hope.
"Like I've said repeatedly, I acknowledge he's going through a process in getting re-acclimated to professional ball," said Tomlin. "It happens when you sit out for an extended period of time. He's been getting progressively better. He had a great week last week of practice, and usually when that happens it's only a matter of time before it shows up on the field."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"As for the pre-existing injuries, Stephon Tuitt and Marcus Gilbert both can be put in the same category – they may be available to us this week. We'll give those guys an opportunity to work, and we'll evaluate that work. If it's above the line, we'll leave the door open for those guys. Gilbert with his soft tissue injury, and Tuitt with his back. In-game injury: JuJu Smith-Schuster reported concussion-like symptoms after the game. He's been placed in the (concussion) protocol. He'll be evaluated appropriately. We'll keep an eye on that and inform you as we get the information. Vance McDonald had a knee injury in the game, and I think it can be characterized as a bruise, but it may affect his availability at the early portions of the week, and maybe even his effectiveness. If it does, we'll do what's appropriate there. But we'll keep an eye on those guys."