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Steelers Calvin Austin III

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Steelers Rookie 4th Rounder Calvin Austin III Eager For Chance To Return Punts; Could It Jeopardize Gunner Olszewski’s Roster Spot?

Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review

Steelers Rookie 4th Rounder Calvin Austin III Eager For Chance To Return Punts; Could It Jeopardize Gunner Olszewski’s Roster Spot?

The Steelers made reinforcements at the wide receiver position this offseason, most specifically in the 2022 NFL Draft. Calvin Austin III is one of those reinforcements, as Pittsburgh selected him in the fourth round (138th overall) just two rounds after George Pickens. Austin is most known for his electrifying speed and quickness, as evidenced by his 4.32 40-time at the NFL Combine.

Listed at 5’9″ on the Steelers website, one would figure him to be the prototypical “gadget” player for the Steelers. Austin proved to be much more than that in his time at Memphis though, as he racked up 2,285 scrimmage yards and 20 TDs in his last two seasons. Additionally, he showed his ability to return punts. In just 25 career returns, Austin had 323 return yards (11.1 yards per punt return) and two touchdowns.

Steelers Takeaways, who does several excellent interviews with players and coaches within the Steelers organization, recently caught up with Austin. He acknowledged that Memphis gave him less of those opportunities in his senior season, due to how important he was on their offense.

“At Memphis, I got less opportunities as a senior just because they wanted to keep my usage down. As the main guy on offense, they wanted to protect me.”

After 20 punt returns in his junior year (2020), Austin had just five in 2021. He figures to perhaps have a chance in doing so in the NFL with Pittsburgh. The role will not be given to him though, as the black and gold signed former New England Patriots wideout Gunner Olszewski earlier in the offseason. Olszewski earned First Team All-Pro honors in 2020 for his punt returning, as he averaged 17.3 yards on his 20 returns, including a touchdown.

Who will be the Steelers punt returner?

The Steelers signed him to a two-year, $4.2 million contract, so his roster spot isn’t necessarily locked up. Offensively, Olszewski doesn’t offer much, as he has just nine career catches for 127 yards in three seasons with the Patriots. As of now, Pickens, Austin, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool seem to be locks to make the roster at WR. That leaves likely just one or two spots left, which Olszewski will have to prove in training camp that he deserves.

Steelers Gunner Olszewski

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (#89) practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex during the 2022 Minicamp, Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Abigail Dean/Pittsburgh Steelers)

“It’s [returning punts] something I definitely look forward to doing. It was something I was able to do in college – sometimes you get those big-legged punters who out-kick their coverage and that leads to return opportunities. I’d be glad to do it in the NFL.”

Austin clearly has the desire to help return punts in his rookie season in the NFL. The team will likely test things out in camp with him and Olszewski and go from there. Again, the team has just one or two spots remaining after the four locks at WR. Now Austin clearly has the ability to take over reigns as the Steelers’ primary punt returner.

Memphis (now-Steelers) WR Calvin Austin III returns a punt for touchdown against Mississippi State

Sporting News

An interesting point to this possible debate, though, is the fact that Austin never returned a kick in college. Contrarily, Olszewski has 36 kick returns over the past two seasons. So not one, but both return positions are open on the Steelers after Ray-Ray McCloud left in free agency. McCloud handled both return duties for the past two seasons, as he signed with the San Francisco 49ers earlier in the offseason. If the Steelers were to theoretically cut ties with Olszewski, Austin would likely have to show he can handle both return duties.

SteelerNation, what do you guys think on this possible battle for return duties coming up in camp? Do you think the black and gold will keep both or eventually cut ties with Olszewski? What are your expectations for Austin’s rookie season? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Credit to my dad, I have been a lifelong Steelers fan. I have fond memories of watching the Steelers win two Super Bowls when I was a little kid. I have only been to 1 Steelers game in my life, which was in Kansas City. That was the notorious game where Antonio Brown pinned it against his chest down the sidelines for a touchdown. I hope to get to Heinz Field some day! I graduated from Iowa State University and look forward to growing as a writer with #SteelerNation!

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  1. Pingback: Steelers' Failed Gunner Olszewski Experiment Should Be Over; Team Needs To Move On From Him In 2022 - SteelerNation.com

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