After the Pittsburgh Steelers selected wide receiver Calvin Austin III in the 2022 NFL Draft, there were hopes that the Memphis product would be able to contribute not only on offense, but on special teams as well. Obviously, a foot injury prevented Austin from seeing the field at all during his rookie season but with him seemingly now past that, we can resume hope that he’ll not only be a contributor on offense in 2023, but quite possibly as a returner as well.
Last week during the Steelers first set of OTA practices, Austin talked briefly about how he’s willing to help the team any way that he can in 2023 and that includes playing on special teams if asked to do so.
“I’m open for whatever in the special teams world,” Austin said, according to Mike DeFabo of The Athletic. “Even if that’s me being the gunner. Whether that’s punt return, kick return — I’m confident in both.”
While Austin did do some returning at the college level at Memphis, he was limited to punts only, with a total of 29 of them for 323 yards and two touchdowns. In short, he entered the NFL without a huge returner resume and thus will need to show a lot in that department this summer to win the job.
Last season, the Steelers return game didn’t have a lot of stability and mainly because of ball security issue. Wide receiver Gunner Olszewski opened the season as the primary returner but gave way to wide receiver Steven Sims after a few fumbles in the first few games. As for Sims, who left this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, he provided some splash as a returner in 2022 but overall was inconsistent.
Overall in 2022, the Steelers return game was dismal and especially when it came to punts. For the season, the Steelers ranked 30th in the NFL in punt return average with a 5.9-yard average. While slightly better on kickoffs, the Steelers 21.3-yard average was only good for 24th overall in the NFL.
As the Steelers now prepare for their second set of OTA practices, Austin figures to continue to get a shot at showing he can be the team’s primary returner for the 2023 season. It would be great to see him ultimately win that job later this summer and go on to provide the Steelers with a much-needed spark in that phase of the game.