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Steelers Find New Ways to Use Calvin Austin’s Speed



Steelers Preseason Calvin Austin III
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin III at training camp, Aug. 5, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

UNITY TWP., Pa. — Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin III is fast.

That is probably not a revelation to anyone familiar with the Steelers. Or Austin.

The former track star was one of the fastest players in the 2022 NFL Draft class, and Steelers fans got to see that on display last year at training camp, with Austin running a lot of jets sweeps, screens and doing other things to show off his speed out of the slot.

After a late-camp foot injury ended his rookie season before it could start, Austin is back at training camp in 2023, again showing off his speed. But he’s doing it in a different way.

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense is famous for making teams defend the width of the field, using motions and jet sweeps to spread defenses out, in order to make a relatively simple scheme more effective. A speedster like Austin can certainly be a tool in that regard and he was on track to do that in 2022.

But this year, it seems that the Steelers are setting out to find different ways to use Austin’s speed. Several times this training camp, Austin has gotten behind the defense vertically, with the Steelers quarterbacks arcing balls in over the heads of in-his-wake defenders to find the small speed demon.

“It’s definitely been an emphasis,” Austin said. “I’ve made some plays down the field, so I’ve just go to continue it.”

Early on in camp, there were some hiccups. One play, Austin ran past his defenders, but Mitch Trubisky’s ball was a bit underthrown and hung in the air long enough to give Tre Norwood time to get to it.

Throwing to Austin is not the same as throwing to George Pickens with his absurd catch radius and combat catch ability. Teams usually use smaller receivers in the slot or wide in space, because it’s harder to throw a ball over defenders and have it come down in the hands of a smaller receiver behind them.

But the Steelers have kept at it, and the results have been coming in recent days.

“I just think more reps,” Austin said. “I know people like to overreact to stuff early on, but mistakes happen. Stuff happens. It’s just about the next play and having that next play mentality.”

Friday, Austin beat a defender and then fought back to the ball for a combat catch. Saturday, he bent a post into the hole in the middle of Cover 2 and made a grab between safeties.

Austin is undersized for his position, there is no question. But it doesn’t seem that the Steelers are interested in him being limited to being just a gadget play specialist.

RELATED: Calvin Austin Burns Secondary at Steelers Camp

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