2022 Offseason Questions: Can Calvin Austin III Win Punt Return Job?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.

This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others—some already decided, some not.

Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor was re-signed, but Trai Turner was not. James Daniels and Mason Cole were added in free agency.

These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Can Calvin Austin III win the punt return job?

The Steelers signed Gunner Olszewski specifically to have a replacement for their previous return man, who did both punt and kick returns, when Ray-Ray McCloud left in free agency. That doesn’t mean he absolutely under any circumstances must do all returns.

Now, he probably will. But what about the possibility of rookie fourth-round draft pick Calvin Austin III getting a shot? At least in punt returns? He did do punt returns in his final two seasons, although not much in 2021, just five, but he housed one, as he did the year before. For his career, he averaged 11.1 yards per return with two touchdowns on 25 returns for Memphis.

Austin certainly isn’t big, but he is fast and he has elusive qualities. There are worse traits in having a punt returner. And with Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens likely to take up the majority of the snaps at wide receiver, having a return role, even if only on punt returns, would be a way to get him on the field and contributing.

Of course, he would have to earn the job, but I do think that the coaching staff will give him a chance to do so. He will have to prove to be sure-handed (although McCloud apparently never did), but, look, they’re not just going to play Olszewski because they signed him. If Austin outperforms him, they’ll put him on the field, I’m sure, especially if he doesn’t have much of a role on offense.

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