PITTSBURGH — In each of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first two preseason games, the team needed a fourth quarter two-minute drive in order to come away with a victory. Both times, the Steelers’ offense moved the ball down the field and was able to score a go-ahead late touchdown, and both times, wide receiver Tyler Vaughns was a key part of the offense.
Vaughns is not one of the players that many had circled to be preseason contributors at a deep wide receiver position for the Steelers. The team came into camp with established veterans Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Gunner Olszewski, Miles Boykin, Anthony Miller, Steven Sims and Cody White expected to be joined by promising rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin.
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To crack that group from the outside looked like a tough ask, but Vaughns has done just that.
He got an opportunity thanks to some misfortune for others. Both Johnson and Claypool missed time with minor injuries early in camp. Miller was lost for the season on the eve of the first preseason game and Austin has been out a couple week with a foot sprain.
Even still, most of Vaughns’ work has come late in preseason games. He has six catches for 88 yards to lead the Steelers, all of which has come in the fourth quarter.
In the preseason opener against Seattle, he caught an 8-yard pass from Kenny Pickett on the Steelers’ penultimate drive, and then snagged a 24-yard catch-and-run touchdown with three seconds left on the clock to give the Steelers the win.
In Jacksonville, he had one catch on a fourth-quarter field goal drive architected by Mason Rudolph. When the Steelers got the ball back, needing a touchdown to take the lead, Rudolph went to Vaughns four times in five plays, connecting on three of them for gains of 25, 21 and 5 yards to move the Steelers down to the 1-yard line. Tyler Snead got the touchdown pass one play later.
“It’s been great just having an opportunity to get on the field, even though it is late in the game,” Vaughns said. “I can show my abilities, when it is like crunch time.”
A second-year pro, Vaughns joined the Steelers after the 2021 preseason. He was cut from the Indianapolis Colts just two days after being added to the practice squad in early September. He joined the Steelers a week later and spent all of 2021 on the practice squad, but was never elevated to the active roster.
Now a year later, he feels like he should win when put into those late-game preseason scenarios against other teams’ depth and rookies, especially considering how much the Steelers practice situational football.
“We do practice it a lot,” Vaughns said. “It is more comfortable to be in the game. So it’s not feeling like it is a two-minute, It just feels like a regular play in practice.:
But winning those battles alone won’t get Vaughns into the Steelers’ 53-man roster. Him, Snead, Boykin and Sims appear to be battle for what might be one roster spot, and it’s been a tough battle. All of the Steelers receivers have looked this preseason, and it won’t be an easy cut.
It might take another big play late in Sunday’s preseason finale for Vaughns to make an impact, and he’d be just fine with that if another opportunity comes his way.
“I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to play again,” he said. “That’s all I’ve been wanting to do.”