The Steelers seem to expect Calvin Austin III to have a sizable role heading into OTAs as the gadget guy who can do a little bit of everything. That does not mean that Austin will be a high-volume player, but he will have enough of a role that is tangible to feel in Matt Canada’s offense.
Coming off lisfranc surgery, Austin will have to prove himself after having a promising start to training camp in 2022. Austin is seven months out of surgery and could be limited in the early portions of the offseason program, such as off-season training activities (OTAs). That early portion of the offseason will set him back a bit, but Austin should be ready to go for the meat of the offseason.
In fact, all reports coming out of the building seem to be extremely positive. Omar Khan has declared that he should not be forgotten in the WR room. At the NFL Combine in March, Khan believed that great things were coming for Austin after his offseason of rehab.
“We’re expecting great things from Calvin,” Khan said. “He’s progressing nicely. We’re excited about him being on the field here in the spring when we get back to football. We’re excited to have him.”
But what is the realistic level of expectations for the team to have? I think speed is something that instantaneously builds hype around a player. And in person and on tape the speed is elite. For Austin, I just hope that speed and explosiveness are still there completely after the injury. So, I think that has to be the first step. There is obvious trepidation here. Austin is coming off a serious foot injury without playing a down of football yet.
I imagine the playing time will be limited to a few things. Austin should be right in the mix for the returner job. That could give him a clear path to getting his speed utilized. Second, jet sweeps and screens are where I generally expect him to make most of his hay. In that area, I expect Austin could have a few explosive plays that really give the team a much-needed jolt that they failed to have last year.
As for intricate routes and playing both in the slot and outside, I think that will grow over the season for him. Remember, Austin is basically a rookie. This will be his first true lap around the proverbial track. So, I think you can expect progression over the year and perhaps growth in his role the later the season gets.
Really what I want to convey here is to tamper expectations a little bit. It’s not really about Austin the player. He’s just got a lot of factors working against him from becoming this game-changing force right out of the gate. So, the realistic expectation should be a gadget player who is a returner. Then, maybe later as the year rolls along, Austin gets more work in a traditional receiver role as he learns more and becomes comfortable.