Buzz continues to grow for big-play Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant

The Steelers are expecting even bigger things from Martavis Bryant in his second year in the offense. Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

LATROBE, Pa. -- To understand the hype surrounding Martavis Bryant this season, I put Pittsburgh Steelers third-string quarterback Tajh Boyd to the Pepsi hype challenge.

Boyd played with Bryant and No. 4 overall pick Sammy Watkins at Clemson. So, is Bryant’s ceiling as high as Watkins’?

“Absolutely,” Boyd said. “As far as Sammy can go, [Bryant] can go and vice versa … There’s still so much room for growth with him. You’re talking potentially Pro Bowl this year, next year, whenever, as long as he wants it.”

Those are bold statements about a receiver who caught 26 passes last year. But after Bryant scored nearly every third time he touched the ball and produced 21 yards per catch, despite minimal responsibility in the offense (mostly go routes), he has the attention of Steelers’ fans.

If the second-year receiver develops like the Steelers think he will, Antonio Brown will have a legitimate No. 2 outside receiver to play alongside. Bryant’s emergence can slide Markus Wheaton (more on him in an upcoming story) to the slot full-time.

The Steelers are expanding Bryant’s workload, asking him to learn both outside receiver spots. They’ve utilized Bryant on reverses during camp. Ben Roethlisberger calls Bryant’s development in the offense “big.”

The camp glimpses are there, with Bryant connecting with Roethlisberger on a 50-yarder, faking the corner and safety with a hesitation move. On Monday, the first day in pads, he caught a jump ball in the corner of the end zone that officials waved off because he didn’t have two feet in bounds.

Bryant senses he’s an ascending player in the eyes of many -- including fantasy football owners.

“I hear about it and it’s good, but I have to put the work in,” Bryant said.

The Steelers waited until Week 7 last season to get Bryant involved. He was part of the Steelers’ 8-2 finish. In the six games Bryant scored at least one touchdown, Roethlisberger averaged 356 yards per game.

The Steelers gave Bryant “a couple of things to do [last year] and he did it really well,” Roethlisberger said.

“Now we’re asking him to do more, to move around a little bit, play some front side, back side,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re going to count on him in the no huddle. Last year when we were calling stuff he was asking people what to do. Now we’re feeling more comfortable with him knowing what to do so hopefully he will be able to translate that to playing faster.”

Roethlisberger highlighted the key with Bryant’s second year -- pick up the nuances of the offense and he can explode. If he doesn’t, he’s still limited to big-play duties.

But getting 20 to 25 yards per catch is “who [Bryant] is,” said Boyd, who calls Watkins more of a physical, run-you-over receiver than Bryant, who’s a natural deep threat. Watkins went fourth overall and Bryant went in the fourth round, in part, Boyd believes, because he’s a slow starter. In 2013, he didn’t catch a pass in a high-profile season opener against Georgia.

Once Bryant catches a rhythm, Boyd is guessing Roethlisberger will have a similar mindset to when Boyd threw to Bryant at Clemson.

“Every time Ta was one on one, I knew where I was going with it,” Boyd said. “I’ll take that matchup every time. To see his evolution and growth is fun. Seeing him from freshman year to junior year, every year he got better.”