JuJu Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant taking far different bike paths for Steelers

Herm says Tomlin's decision on Bryant is 'great' (0:52)

Herm Edwards is pleased with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's decision to send unhappy WR Martavis Bryant to the practice squad. (0:52)

PITTSBURGH -- When the Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster in April, Martavis Bryant tweeted that the second-round pick was Sammie Coates' replacement, not his.

He's kind of replaced both, at least for now.

Though Bryant's talent is undeniable, the presence of Smith-Schuster gives the Pittsburgh Steelers the flexibility to bench Bryant for the Detroit game without punishing the team by removing a key player.

Everything about the scene at the Steelers facility Wednesday accentuated the team's growing No. 2 receiver gulf. Bryant was on the defense as he explained how his social media firestorm -- calling out Smith-Schuster as an inferior talent while reinforcing his desire for a trade -- left him a healthy scratch for this week. He was unapologetic in his desire for more than five targets a game, his frustration as a Steeler and the need to fight for his career since "I worked hard to get back [from suspension]; nobody gave me nothing."

On the other side of the locker room, Smith-Schuster was happily discussing the retrieval of his stolen bicycle that had drawn Twitter hashtags the day before, his efforts to obtain a driver's license and the popularity of his touchdown celebrations.

"The ultimate celebration is to get Ben in there," Smith-Schuster said. "If Ben gets in there, I'll give Ben my next check. Obviously he doesn't need it."

Two talented players, two different energies.

Both players have 12 targets over the past three games, but only one target is getting bigger before the bye week.

Not that Bryant and Smith-Schuster can't coexist. A steady dose of Brown, Smith-Schuster as the all-around option and Bryant as a vertical weapon can fluster a defense. But Bryant's desire to be elsewhere spoils those plans.

The Steelers' insistence that Bryant has worked hard and has been a good teammate provides hope. Ben Roethlisberger endorsed Bryant, saying many more touchdown connections are to come.

But Roethlisberger's positive review of Smith-Schuster's youthful goofiness and adult-sized work ethic is hard to ignore.

"[He] brings a youthfulness to this locker room," Roethlisberger said. "It has an older kind of feel to it with all of the linemen and myself. It's fun, the celebrations and just his silliness. What I like about him the most is you can talk to him and he can almost snap out of it real quick and become a mature football player that is disciplined and wants to hear and know you can help them. Then you will go out to walk-through and you'll throw a pass and he will dive for it. He will do something silly, so it's kind of fun."

Bryant is emboldened by returning from his 2016 suspension when others thought he wouldn't. He believes he can't maximize his potential in his current role. Those thoughts are understandable.

But as the Steelers vie for the playoffs, they must decide which playmakers they can trust late in games. That requires more than talent. Bryant must prove once again he can be trusted. Smith-Schuster, though not the game-breaker Bryant is, already has.