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Steelers still waiting on 'different animal' Martavis Bryant

LATROBE, Pa. -- Martavis Bryant is hard to miss as he catches passes on an auxiliary field. The Pittsburgh Steelers' lanky playmaker has been relegated to running deep routes by himself while the rest of the team practices.

Bryant's conditional NFL reinstatement could be lifted any day now as he waits for his 2017 rehabilitation schedule to be approved. The schedule will detail when and how he meets with counselors. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says Bryant has "paid his dues" and should now be with his teammates.

Martavis Bryant bringing down a catch on an auxiliary field while James Harrison watches.

Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Staff Writer ago

Roethlisbergrer also knows that Bryant brings a different dimension to the offense. Sure, he has been intrigued by the versatile weapons in the Steelers' receiving corps, particularly new addition Justin Hunter.

"But Martavis is a little bit of a different animal out there," Roethlisberger said.

Wednesday marked the first day that second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster returned to a padded practice after suffering a minor lower body injury. The rookie is eager to see Bryant provide a boost to an already explosive group.

"He's going to be a great asset to our team," Smith-Schuster said. "As soon as he comes back and we get all the guys back together, we're going to have an unstoppable team."

With Sammie Coates out, Hunter has gotten an extended look on the outside with the first-team offense. Veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey is also getting some reps in that spot. Hunter is keeping the starting role warm for Bryant, making several high-leaping, athletic catches early in camp.

"I don't want to get too excited too early, but I really like the presence he brings," Roethlisberger said.

Bryant and Hunter give Roethlisberger two 6-foot-4 targets who can stretch the field. Roethlisberger likes the mismatch potential, as well as the accuracy boost.

"Some people are more accurate when you have big guys," he said.

A few other notes from Steelers practice Wednesday:

  • The first-team offense went 0-for-4 in "seven shots" goal-line work to start practice. That's the first time I've seen that. Major stand by defense. Roethlisberger threw a strike to Heyward-Bey by the sideline, but DHB got pushed out before getting both feet in bounds.

  • Project tight end Phazahn Odom got pushed around big time in blocking drills, but he's improving. Tight ends coach James Daniel told him as much today. Natural pass-catching hands, too.

  • Cobi Hamilton has had a few drops, but he fights as a blocker. That helped him stay on the field last year, and it will give him a chance now.

  • Two running backs showed wiggle room in the open field, particularly as pass-catchers: Knile Davis and Trey Williams.

  • Great-to-bad sequence for rookie Josh Dobbs: Connected on two sideline passes down the field consecutively, one to Williams and another to Smith-Schuster on a pretty deep out. A few plays later, he threw a pick-six to Arthur Moats. Overall, Dobbs has been predictably uneven. He also threw a wobbly deep ball earlier in practice. But he seems to bounce back well from mistakes.

  • Two big hits in the inside run: L.J. Fort

  • Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh has had a productive camp. He has been good in coverage.

  • Linebacker T.J. Watt looks capable in coverage but likes to hold, too.

  • Linebacker Bud Dupree is a little slow on the spin move, but his counter bend is solid.

  • Rookie linebacker Keion Adams will push for a roster spot.

  • Tight ends Jesse James and Xavier Grimble look the part but need to clean up a few drops early in camp. Grimble and Roethlisberger did connect on a big gain late in practice. And Grimble has been a beast on the blocking sled.

  • Nobody's beating tackle Marcus Gilbert in one-on-ones right now.

  • Linebacker Tyler Matakevich struggles with foot speed in coverage, but the man can play the run.