The Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff is always emphasizing that you have to win in all three phases of the game, offense, defense, and special teams. The Steelers seemed to have emphasized this during the free agent period as well, signing WR/KR Gunner Olszewski to a two-year deal this off-season. The team will probably use Olszewski on offense as well, but I’m willing to bet he’ll be the main attraction in the return game, especially to start the season. Steelers special teams coordinator, Danny Smith gave the latest on his units last week!
Olszewski, when he played for the New England Patriots, was named a 2020 NFL All-Pro as a punt returner. He finished that year with 20 punt returns for 346 yards (that’s a 17.3 yards average per return), and 1 touchdown. He had 4 returns for 20 plus yards and 3 returns for 40 plus yards, while his longest return was 70 yards.
And then, there is the rookie, Calvin Austin III out of Memphis, that the Steelers drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The rookie finished his college career with 29 returns for 323 yards (11.1 yards per return average) and 2 touchdowns. Austin will be used on the offensive side of the ball as well, but in the meantime, he’ll be competing with Olszewski for a spot to return kicks for the Steelers.
The Steelers are looking to replace return man, Ray-Ray McCloud, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers during the free agency period.
Smith, on the return man job, from his perspective right now:
“To be honest with you, we’ve got more choices than we’ve had. We have more numbers than we’ve had, so we’ll sort that out,” Smith said. “You could say this guy has an advantage or that guy has an advantage, but I don’t really look at it like that at this point because we haven’t been in-game with some of these guys yet.”
“It is wide open,” Smith said, but added that they’re looking at “a select number of guys.”
After another incredible year, finishing the 2021 season going 36 of 40 on field goals and 30 of 32 on extra points, Boswell is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, entering the last year of the four-year, $16.8 million contract extension he signed in 2018.
Smith on Boswell:
“Boz is one of those seasoned vets now in this organization. He keeps reminding me of that. That don’t mean [expletive] to me, but it means a lot to him.”
“But he’s excellent. We’re happy with him. He’ll get a new deal at some point.”
Smith on Harvin and his punting job:
“He’s doing well, he really is,” Smith said. “He’s a young kid that’s very talented. … Now, that’s got to equate to the in-game process, obviously, and we’re headed in that direction. He’s improved a lot. He’s got to establish consistency in his game, he’s got to mature as a young man, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I’m just saying it’s a natural maturation process for a rookie coming into this league.”
Smith didn’t say this outright, but implied that Harvin beat out veteran Jordan Berry a season ago, due to the team spending a draft pick on him. However, we know it’s because of the inconsistency Berry came with, as well.
“In Pittsburgh, Pa., draft choices get a good shot. If I get drafted, I want to get drafted in Pittsburgh. I’d have to mess that up, or I’m going to be here,” Smith said. “I’m just speaking the truth. Some other teams ain’t like that. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. But if you get drafted in Pittsburgh, Pa., they’re going to want you to make it. And you’re going to get every opportunity to get there.”