The results — the receiver ballooned to 233 pounds — were shocking to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had no idea Bryant would go full James Harrison on them.
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Once the NFL’s conditional reinstatement allowed Bryant back at the team facility in the spring, coach Mike Tomlin asked him to lose about 15 pounds.
“He knows I can gain and lose weight fast,” Bryant said with a smile.
Apparently. Bryant has since slimmed down to 220 pounds (at 5 percent body fat, he proudly adds), which he considers a sweet spot. But the weight is irrelevant against the backdrop of how Bryant feels.
Mentally free and physically imposing.
Bryant insists he has maintained his high-level speed despite the bulk.
“I wasn’t tired anymore. I wasn’t lazy,” he said of his turn to weights. “Once I was able to stop [smoking], I was more up as far as my energy, my conditioning, and actually getting strong and starting to feel better.”
Bryant admits he used to be one of those show-up-and-ball athletes, getting by on length, speed and jumping ability without any real work behind the scenes. It has been that way since his Clemson days. Six-foot-4 men with 4.4 speed can get away with this.
After the NFL levied the yearlong ban in March 2016 for multiple drug offenses, a humbled Bryant huddled with his agent, Thomas Santanello, to formulate a plan. Giving Bryant structure was important. But Bryant, despite having scored 15 touchdowns in 21 NFL games, also knew he hadn’t maximized his enormous potential.
Simply getting in the gym was the first step.
They settled on the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada, where Bryant spent time with ESPN’s Dan Graziano this summer at his training hub, Van Hook Sports Performance, to outline his plan. Santanello had connections with housing and a gym schedule that provided Bryant access to nutrition advice, weights and acupuncture in a one-stop shop.
“It was about seeing who he could become,” Santanello said.
After a few months, Bryant acknowledges, his weightlifting bordered on obsession. Leg explosion sessions of squats and weighted jumps were among his favorites. And he had nothing else to do, so the obsession worked for a while.
“I’ve been playing this game for 14 years now. He’s not the first or the last one to talk about trying to get me,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m just blessed to have a group in front of me to help protect that. … I know they are always up for the challenge. They always want to protect me, open up things in the run game. They take pride in being the best in the business, and that’s what I think they are.”
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In fact, Garrett isn’t the first Brown to challenge Roethlisberger. In 2011, first-round pick Phil Taylor said after the draft that Roethlisberger was “going down.”
Garrett wasn’t backing away from his comments earlier this week, telling Cleveland media “you shouldn’t be scared to take anybody down.” He also acknowledged that he’s not alone in that thinking — and his Browns teammates will be coming for Big Ben, too.
Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert knows, despite Garrett’s “tremendous” athleticism, that talking without production is useless. “You can’t talk. You have to approach it by playing and let your playing do the talking,” Gilbert said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. If you keep talking and don’t perform, that’s when you have an issue. Just go out there and do your job, and it will take of itself.
“I can see why [he said it]. They asked him a question. But c’mon, Ben’s a Hall of Famer, he’s the best quarterback in the division. Who doesn’t want to sack a guy like that? That’s what he’s paid to do, right?”
And the offensive line is paid to not let him do it. “We’re a different group,” Gilbert said. “We’re the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line.”
And they will be ready.