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Carter: Gunner Olszewski, Favorite in Steelers WR Battle

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Pittsburgh Steelers, Gunner Olszewsk
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Gunner Olszewski catches a pass during minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Jun 8, 2022 -- ED THOMPSON

There is noise about which of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top wide receivers get the most targets, catches, yards, and big plays. But don’t overlook how competitive the battle will be for the final Steelers wide receiver spots on the depth chart. Veterans Gunner Olszewski and Myles Boykin lead the battle, but there are several receivers to consider.

Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens are starters and top options for the season. As a rookie, Calvin Austin III will likely find a spot on the depth chart because he was a fourth-round pick, even if that spot is technically behind some of the other receivers who have to fight for their spots.

Out of the remaining receivers, Olszewski is the player I see who’s done the most to make his case for one of the Steelers’ final receiver spots.

The fourth-year year receiver and return specialist established a good pole position for the start of training camp. He’s been known more for his return skills after leading the NFL with 346 punt return yards and a touchdown in 2020 that got him a Pro Bowl nod.

But Olszewski showed serious potential as a receiving option for the Steelers during OTAs and minicamp. It may have just been football in shorts, but the 6-foot-0, 190 lbs. receiver got separation against the Steelers’ defensive backs with consistency.

Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Work

He also scored a touchdown during minicamp two-minute drill with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. Well, at least it looked like it when Rudolph rolled to his right and hit Olszewski while on the move to complete the drive. Some people disagreed.

“It wasn’t a touchdown. Mike Tomlin called it back,” Olszewski said after a June minicamp practice with a chuckle. On the field, Tomlin said the touchdown didn’t count. “He doesn’t let touchdowns go on his defense. He said something like, ‘Mason’s not gonna scramble’ or something like that.”

It wasn’t really a sore spot for Olszewski. He got to have fun with the play and show his value as a receiver on a broken play who could get open for his quarterback.

“It’s a two-minute drill,” Olszewski said. “That’s what’s fun about it. You just go play football. If you aren’t open, just get open. That’s what we did there. It was fun that we saw it at the same time.”

Gunner Olszewski isn’t a player who pops off the charts for size, speed, or pedigree. He went undrafted out of Bemidji State — a school noted more for its technology program than its football team. But Olszewski has taken every lesson that’s gotten him to the NFL and forged it into an attitude that lets him make the best out of the smallest opportunities.

“I don’t take any rep I get for granted,” Olszewski said. “When I get in there, I try to make a play. That’s it, period. Just do my job the right way and mess up what the cornerback is thinking. I don’t think about how many reps I’m getting or anything like that. I just have to make every play I can.”

Pittsburgh Steelers Depth

His focus and attention to detail helped Olszewski win against the competition in the past.

“I am a vet now,” Olszewski said. “That sounds good. I like the sound of that.”

That status as a veteran has allowed him to put together countless layers of details to his game to be sharper, smarter, and more comprehensive in his skillset.

“The mental side is the most important part of playing football,” Olszewski said. “You look at anyone in the receiver position, and they’re all great athletes. Most guys are faster and bigger than me. But what I’ve learned in my three years in the league is the importance of the mental side, and that’s the best part I bring to the team.”

That’s led to Olszewski not being picky about where he fits in for the Steelers. He wants whatever role he can get and will do whatever he must to earn the coaches’ trust for the chance.

“I try to carve out a role for myself,” Olszewski said. “That’s the thing I love about football: coaches coach and players play. All I do is strap it up, play my game and put my best stuff on tape. Then the coaches will make those decisions. Whatever decision is made, I just hope to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I’ll roll with it.”

Regarding teammates, Olszewski is still getting to know everyone in the locker room. But if you asked who he’s closest to, it’s not a quarterback or a fellow receiver.

“That’s tough, but I’ll go with Pressley Harvin,” Olszewski said of the Steelers’ second-year punter. “We haven’t done anything yet, but just seeing him in the building, I like him. He’s a hard-working guy around here.”

It was apparent while talking with Olszewski that he was still adjusting to Pittsburgh. But in those early stages, he’s made sure to knock out some of the basics.

“I’ve gotten around,” Olszewski said. “I’ve had a Primanti’s sandwich. The provolone and cheese was a fantastic meal. The bread was great, and everything you need is on the sandwich. When to a Pirates game and a Penguins game. I’ve seen the city a bit to see the bumpy roads, brick roads, the straight-uphill roads, all of it. I like it.”

Olszewski did the early tasks of making a good reputation for himself during Steelers OTAs and minicamp. Boykin has the size and speed advantage on Olszewksi, while Anthony Miller and Cody White have been on and off the team’s practice squad for the past year.

But when it comes to separation and making himself a distinguished receiver option among the group, Olszewski has the lead before training camp. If he can hold off Austin as a return option, he would further solidify his place on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster.

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