Raiders WR Martavis Bryant appreciates Jon Gruden's tough love

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Friday, September 14, 2018

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Yes, Martavis Bryant heard Jon Gruden's backhanded compliment, the Oakland Raiders coach calling the receiver a "white tiger" during training camp. No, Bryant did not take offense to the nickname.

"I feel like he's issuing a challenge for me to become the best person I can be," Bryant said Thursday, "I don't take comments in a negative way; I take it as a motivational factor. He just wants me to be the best player and I thank him for that. You need tough love to be the best. I've got a lot of work to do and he'll continue to push me."

Which is why the Raiders, who initially acquired him for a third-round draft pick in a draft-day trade, re-signed Bryant on Wednesday -- 11 days after cutting him in the run to the team's initial 53-man roster.

Indeed, the Raiders parted ways with Bryant on cut-down day partly because they feared a league-mandated suspension for him. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Saturday that Bryant was facing "a yearlong suspension for his latest violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy," and as it would be his third suspension in four years, it could potentially end his career. Earlier this month, ESPN reported Bryant violated the league's drug policy at some point in the offseason.

Bryant, who was suspended for the 2016 season, said the rumors and reports were not "bugging me, but I don't have any control over that and I don't really want to discuss that right now. This is just another thing that I've been through in my career. I've been in the league five years and I haven't had an establishing career. I've made my mistakes when I was at a younger age and I learned from that. So, I didn't get overly down on myself as I beat myself up the first time I ever got suspended, so I've been through it before so I know how to stay focused."

Asked who has been at his side through the drama, Bryant mentioned his grandmother, his godmother, his mother and his girlfriend.

"I have all the lady support around me," he said with a smile.

Gruden, though, was exasperated by Bryant's gifts on the field but his absence from training camp due to headaches. Hence his "white tiger" coronation.

"We're calling Martavis the white tiger," Gruden said on Aug. 15. "I used to go to Busch Gardens in Tampa... and they've got a white tiger. You go 12 times or 13 times, the white tiger was always in his cage. But the white tiger came out today. Bryant came out.

"I don't know if you get that analogy but sometimes he comes out to play and sometimes he doesn't. It's good to see him because he's really special, like the white tiger."

When Bryant was cut, Gruden said Keon Hatcher simply outplayed him in the preseason. Hatcher was cut to make room for Bryant this week.

"He's a guy that's proven," Gruden said of Bryant on Wednesday. "He can go up and get the deep ball in contested situations. He can run away from you. He can make you miss. He can make big plays down the field, that's an obvious. We're hoping that we can bottle up where he is now -- he's in a great place. He's healthy. He's ready to go. He has a great state of mind. We'll see what happens."

Bryant said he stayed in the Bay Area after being cut and did not watch the Raiders' 33-13 season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday.

He took an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to the sport, just as he did in 2016.

"So I don't get distracted or overly frustrated with myself and end up doing something stupid," he said.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said Bryant will add to the vertical passing game.

"He can split double teams," Carr said. "Teams can try and play certain coverages with him but he's so fast it doesn't matter. You make one false step, if I key that defender and they make one false step, he can be gone like that. He can run by guys that are off coverage. He can do things that other people just don't do.

"That's not a knock on them, that's just what God blessed him with, 4.2 speed with that kind of length, the jump ball stuff and some of that aggressive stuff that I kind of like sometimes. Just having those abilities, to do those things with him. I mean it just adds that dynamic for a coordinator to have to think about."

Still, one of Gruden's criticisms of Bryant was that he was not versatile enough in the offense during camp. Bryant insists that has changed and he expects to contribute Sunday at the Denver Broncos.

"I'm comfortable now, but at the same time, with coach Gruden's offense, you have to continue to study every day and continue to be a student of the book," Bryant said. "I'm way further along compared to when I first got here. I'm just going to continue to be better."

And as far as a potential suspension? The Raiders appear to be throwing caution to the wind in bringing him back.

"I don't know nothing about none of that," Bryant said.

"All I'm here to do is play football. As far as that stuff, let that process take care of that stuff."

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