2022 Offseason Questions: Can Calvin Austin III Steal Away A 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 steal away a return job from Gunner Olszewski?

Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith made a big stink about the fact that he has options for return men this year after the team lost their primary returner, Ray-Ray McCloud, during free agency. Their primary option was a free-agent addition, Gunner Olszewski, who was a first-team All-Pro specialist in 2020.

If Olszewski does not return kicks or punts, it’s easy to see him potentially not even making the team, but what about these other options? What about rookie fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III? The Memphis kid has elite speed, and he did some punt returning in college.

Chances are Austin isn’t going to see a ton of playing time on offense during his rookie season behind Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens. We may even see a veteran wide receiver like Anthony Miller or Miles Boykin see offensive playing time ahead of him.

Awarding him a return job—if he earns it—would be a good way to get him on the field and contributing before he has a larger role on offense, kind of like how Mike Munchak would break in linemen as tackle-eligibles before they earn starting jobs.

But it’s all about earning jobs. Olszewski is the clear favorite to be both the punt and kick returner. He’s the only guy on the roster who’s done it to a high level of success in the NFL—minus Johnson, who isn’t an option. But Austin certainly has the skillset you look for in a returner. Will he get a fair shake, and if he were to win at least one of the return jobs, what would it mean for Olszewski?

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