Ex-Steelers Standout Begins ‘Comeback Attempt’ With Rod Woodson’s Vegas Vipers

Martavis Bryant

Getty Images Martavis Bryant of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts to make a catch during the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in January 2018.

When the Vegas Vipers open the 2023 XFL season against the Arlington Renegades (Sat. Feb. 18, 3 p.m. ET, ABC), the biggest name on the field will be Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, who is head coach of the XFL’s Vegas franchise. But the biggest name on Woodson’s roster is former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who was a first-round pick of the Vipers in last November’s XFL Draft.

It’s the “latest comeback attempt” for the ex-Steelers standout, who has signed with two CFL teams (the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Elks) and played for the Massachusetts Pirates of the Indoor Football League (IFL) since getting suspended indefinitely by the NFL in Dec. 2018. He also joined the Beasts of the Fan Controlled Football league in 2022, shortly after he was released by the Elks.

Martavis Bryant ‘Probable’ for the XFL 2023 Season Opener

According to Joe Arrigo, who covers Las Vegas sports for Franchise Sports Media, Bryant is listed as ‘probable’ for Saturday’s Vipers-Renegades game with a right thigh injury.

Assuming Bryant plays in the season opener, he’ll likely be catching passes from projected starting quarterback Luis Perez, who led the Texas A&M-Commerce Lions to a NCAA Division II National Championship in 2017 and won the Harlon Hill Trophy that same year.

Bryant, who was selected by the Steelers in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft, caught 136 passes and scored 17 touchdowns in the 36 games he played for Pittsburgh, as per Pro Football Reference.

Meanwhile, the Vipers organization also features several other ex-Steelers, including defensive backs coach Darren Perry, a former 8th-round pick who played free safety in Pittsburgh from 1992-98. Also on Woodson’s staff is wide receivers coach Ray Sherman, who spent one year as Steelers offensive coordinator under Bill Cowher (1998).

Sherman is coaching a group that includes Mathew Sexton, who joined the Steelers in March 2021 but failed to beat out WR/KR Ray-Ray McCloud for a roster spot. Sexton — who earned the nickname ‘Cheddar Bob’ while with the Steelers — will wear No. 10 for the Vipers, while Bryant will wear No. 4.

The Renegades also have a handful of players with Pittsburgh connections. Arlington’s active roster includes cornerback Shakur Brown, who signed with the Steelers as a rookie undrafted free agent in May 2021. Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns and defensive lineman Doug Costin have also spent time with the Steelers.

Ex-Steelers on the Orlando Guardians and Houston Roughnecks

As for the two other teams on the XFL schedule on Feb. 18, they feature their share of ex-Steelers as well. If you watch the Orlando Guardians play the Houston Roughnecks at 8:30 p.m. (ESPN/FX), you might see wide receiver Eli Rogers and linebacker Tegray Scales getting playing time for the Guardians, not to mention quarterback Paxton Lynch, a former 1st-round pick of the Denver Broncos who spent time with the Steelers in 2020.

The Roughnecks feature former Steelers 2nd-round pick Sean Davis, who played safety for the team from 2016-2020. Houston also employs cornerback Alexander Myres (2019-20 training camp, practice squad) and running back Max Borghi (2022 training camp).

Week 1 of the 2023 XFL season continues with two more games on Sunday Feb. 19, one of which pits the St. Louis Battlehawks against the San Antonio Brahmas, the latter of whom are coached by Steelers legend Hines Ward. Both Woodson and Ward have limited experience as NFL assistants. In the past, Woodson has complained that he’s been discriminated against for NFL coaching jobs, owing to his status as a Pro Football Hall of Famer.