The Steelers will have a new punter returner in the 2023 season. Second-year wide receiver Calvin Austin III has won the team’s punt returner job, ousting Gunner Olszewski and others who competed for the role. He was listed initially as the starter at that position, and after two big plays during the preseason, Austin has earned that title on the team’s first depth chart of the regular season.
In his first home game, Calvin Austin torched the Buffalo Bills for a massive 54-yard return. He did the same thing the week after that against the Atlanta Falcons. As a result, he put the position on lock, and rightfully so. If Austin shows out like he did in the preseason, there is a chance for Austin to become one of the more dynamic returns Pittsburgh has boasted in recent memories on punts or kick returns.
The Steelers’ longest punt return of the 2022 season was 24 yards by Steven Sims. The last time they had a 50-yard punt return in the regular season was Oct. 25, 2020, when Ray-Ray McCloud had a 57-yarder against the Tennessee Titans. However, the last truly impactful returner may have been Diontae Johnson, and the last genuinely elite returner goes back to Antonio Brown.
Pittsburgh expects to see that speed and explosiveness out of Austin on special teams. But not just that, Austin should be a player that sticks out on offense. Austin’s growing and breaking out as a player takes the team’s group of weapons to another level, and it becomes an offense where Kenny Pickett has a lot to work with. Austin has continually impressed at training camp, and it seems his playing career is also off to a hot start.
Pittsburgh now has given the speedy receiver a defined role in his second season after a potentially career-altering injury. They are hoping that they are rewarded for that patience and belief in Austin’s game.