The Pittsburgh Steelers moved quick in free agency after losing their starting return man, with Ray-Ray McCloud agreeing to sign with the San Francisco 49ers. They found and signed Gunner Olszewski, who was an All-Pro returner for the New England Patriots in 2020, but who had limited experience outside of special teams.
McCloud didn’t have much offensive experience when he came to Pittsburgh, either, but he played over 500 snaps last season and caught 39 passes. So a number of people had questions about whether or not the Steelers also planned to use him on offense—it’s a question that I myself posed recently, in fact, and the responses were uh…mixed.
But apparently Olszewski has an answer himself. Speaking to Missi Matthews for the team’s website in an interview posted yesterday, he was asked if the team talked to him about an opportunity to contribute on offense, and he implied that they had.
“Yeah, they said that they’re gonna give me a chance to come out and play ball”, he said, “and that’s all you can really ask for. I like having the ball in my hands. I like returning punts and kicks, and anytime I can get the football, it’s a good time, to me. I’m looking forward to showcasing what I can do with it on the offensive side as well”.
Not only did the Steelers lose McCloud from the wide receiver room, they also saw former Pro Bowler JuJu Smith-Schuster sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, and James Washington found his way to the Dallas Cowboys—just hours away from his 40-acre ranch where he raises horses and cattle.
For the moment, their wide receiver room is headlined by Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, supplemented by Olszewski, Cody White, Anthony Miller, and Steven Sims, among players with experience. Tyler Vaughns and Rico Bussey are 2021 undrafted rookies who spent time on the practice squad last season.
It is highly likely that the team will address the wide receiver position in a few weeks’ time in the upcoming draft, but given the way that they were willing to expand McCloud’s role on offense, there’s really no reason to think that they won’t give Olszewski an opportunity as well, for better or worse.
As a reminder, Olszewski spent his football life prior to arriving in New England playing on defense. He has only been playing wide receiver for a few years, so it is reasonable to assume that he is still growing, and thus, potentially getting better and more capable of contributing.