Can elite practice player help Steelers replace Martavis Bryant?

PITTSBURGH -- Justin Hunter is doing it again, just like training camp. Hunter makes ridiculous catches in practice settings. His expansive reach, 6-foot-4 frame and a vertical that resembles an invisible stairway climb help him catch passes over -- or on top of -- the heads of defensive backs.

All this might not mean much come Sundays, but he's hard to ignore when he's on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he knows it.

"I'm been a jumper since birth," Hunter said after the Steelers' organized team activities session Thursday, when asked about a recent red zone session that basically belonged to him.

After four catches for 23 yards and a touchdown last season, Hunter is not expected to become the Steelers' next 1,000-yard receiver. But he has a transferable skill that helps the five-year veteran land jobs every spring: splash plays. Thirteen of his 82 career catches are touchdowns. That's largely why he's played for the Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills and now enters his second free-agent deal with the Steelers.

To be sure, Hunter isn't a perfect route-runner, and his lack of reps last season had something to do with the low production. But he's hopeful for a breakout after the trade of Martavis Bryant, a similarly lanky deep threat.

"Like Coach T [Mike Tomlin] says, somebody's going to find a certain trait in you -- as long as you're good at that trait, you should be around a while," Hunter said. "As long as I build off that, I'm trying to sustain it."

With Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster missing some OTA sessions, Hunter is getting a few first-team reps alongside Darrius Heyward-Bey. Second-round pick James Washington figures to vie for such reps in the fall.

But Hunter plans to capitalize on his opportunity now.

"I need every one of [these reps]," Hunter said. "It gives me another op to show what I've got against the first team. As long as I keep it consistently, I'll be straight."

It's noteworthy that Ben Roethlisberger said he was impressed with Hunter's athleticism upon first glance last year. Roethlisberger won't be afraid to throw to him if he's in the lineup.

"Ben just says, 'If I'm going to throw it to you, make a play for me,'" Hunter said.