Connect with us

Steelers Analysis

Steelers Minicamp Standouts: Calvin Austin Seizing Opportunity; Forgotten Man on Defense

Pittsburgh Steelers Minicamp Standouts: Calvin Austin III has been seizing his opportunity at WR; Mark Robinson a forgotten man at LB

Published

on

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Calvin Austin III
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin III during minicamp on June 11, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — NFL players don’t earn money during minicamp. That’s true in the literal sense: though the members of the Pittsburgh Steelers can be fined for not attending minicamp, there is no game check waiting at the end. It’s also true in the figurative sense. While a future paycheck can be earned in the crucible that is training camp, no one is gaining a role they didn’t have before while wearing nothing more than helmets, jerseys and shorts.

But you can earn an opportunity, and that’s exactly what wide receiver Calvin Austin III has been doing this week.

Coming off a strong OTAs session, Austin has continued that work into the situational-football-loaded first two days of Steelers minicamp, and has been the most consistent and reliable member of the Steelers wide receivers corps outside of George Pickens.

Austin capped off the team’s practice-ending two-minute drill on Wednesday with a touchdown reception in the end zone from starting quarterback Russell Wilson. He’s been working with the first team throughout training camp, and he’s developed a significant connection with Wilson thus far.
He’s also being used in ways that we haven’t seen before. A gadget play and deep threat specialist in 2023, look for Austin to have a more well-rounded role in 2024, including a surprising amount of red zone work, where he’s shown a proficiency despite his short stature.

“Obviously, I have speed, but one of the things that I’ve definitely continued to improve on and one of the better skillsets of my game is my short-box quickness,” Austin said last week. “So any time I’m around that red zone, boy that’s my money time. That’s when you’re gonna see some of my best routes and some of the best use of my quickness on the field. Any time we’re in that short area, that’s where I start cooking.”

The Memphis native has definitely been cooking this minicamp. Fittingly, some of the defensive backs are getting barbecued.

RUSSELL WILSON STILL HAS HIS FASTBALL

One of the big differences between OTAs and minicamp has been the emphasis on situational football. Those situations often bring out the competitive juices between the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Do a drill over and over again, and it becomes boring, but competing against one another always gets players’ juices flowing.

Wilson has been known throughout his career as a quarterback with a great deep ball. He’s also been known as a player that, thanks to his size and scrambling ability, has often declined struggled to make big throws over the middle.

Maybe it was just the competitive juices on Wednesday, but Wilson got a look at an open player in a tight window during the team’s seven shots practice-opening drill and absolutely rifled his pass in there. Wilson might not regularly seek out the middle of the field, and his vision there will probably always be one of the weaker areas of his game, but if he gets a good look, it’s good to know that the 35-year-old can still gun it.

RELATED: Steelers Minicamp Takeaways: Russell Wilson Impressive, CB Plan Revealed

Steelers Minicamp Takeaways: Russell Wilson Impressive, CB Plan Revealed

STEELERS FORGOTTEN MAN AT LINEBACKER

There has been plenty of attention on the linebacker position this offseason, with the Steelers adding Patrick Queen in free agency and Payton Wilson in the draft to returning starters Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts.

Wednesday was a newsy day at the position, with defensive coordinator Teryl Austin saying that Wilson has a chance to win the Dime linebacker role, and head coach Mike Tomlin confirming that Holcomb is on track to return from his knee injury for training camp.

But there’a forgotten man in that linebacker room that is doing a good job of making sure he’s not overlooked: third-year man Mark Robinson. Robinson has developed into a core special teams player since being a sixth-round draft pick out of Ole Miss in 2022. A former college running back, he was drafted as a project that everyone knew might take some time to become fluid at what is perhaps football’s most instinctual position.

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Mark Robinson

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Mark Robinson at minicamp on June 11, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

When the Steelers suffered a run of injuries at the position in the middle of the season in 2023, Robinson wasn’t quite ready to pick up the load that was left available when Holcomb and Kwon Alexander went down.

While the Steelers signed Myles Jack out of retirement to do most of the heavy lifting, Robinson did see an increased role through the end of the season, and he seems like he’s in an even better place to compete this season.

With Holcomb still out and Roberts also missing practice on Wednesday, he called plays for the defense when Queen wasn’t in the lineup — a weighty role for someone so new to the position.

“I don’t feel no weight, I don’t feel no pressure,” he said. “I just go out and practice, enjoy the days on the grass.”

BIG MEN GET UP AT STEELERS MINICAMP

It’s hard for interior defensive linemen to stand out without pads on. For the most part, the linemen get into their assigned rush lanes and play an elaborate version of patty cake with their positional opposites.

Someone might break out a pass-rush move every once in a while, but for the most part, it’s pretty much done by rote.

There is one way to stand out, though, and that’s for a 300-pound man to leap high in the air to bat down one of Justin Fields’ passes. That’s what Keeanu Benton did on Wednesday, and he continues to look like a player whose athleticism might have another level than he showed, even in a promising rookie season in 2023.

The Steelers defensive line has been so active in batting down passes that at one point this spring, Fields asked Breiden Fehoko to tell his brethren to knock it off. It doesn’t seem like they’re listening.