Training Camp

Cam Heyward Sees George Pickens Improving, Calls Calvin Austin III ‘A Speed Demon’

On the most recent episode of Not Just Football with Cam Heyward, the veteran defensive lineman and team leader was asked about the WR position and the impact of having Diontae Johnson back practicing in camp has had on the offense as well as the younger receivers in the room. When asked about the Twitter hype on rookie WRs George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, Heyward pumped the breaks on Pickens stating that the young receiver has a ways to go before he can be considered a finished project.

“Obviously there’s things he’s got to work at,” Heyward said on the Not Just Football podcast. “I remember the first day Mike T brought up what a rookie does when they get to the next level. They’re used to catching the ball and jumping for it. And that waste time, you know, turning around once they catch it. He addressed that the first day after that you see George really start to learn from that where he’s not just catching the ball. He’s not jumping, but he’s turning with the ball and he’s able to get off his brakes a little bit faster.”

Steelers WR Chase Claypool has taken a lot of grief in his first two seasons in the league for making the mistake of leaving his feet when attempting to make the catch, causing him to miss several passes and limit his ability to pick up yards after the catch. It appears that Tomlin wants to address that issue right away with Pickens to make sure that doesn’t become a bad habit for the talented rookie pass catcher from Georgia as he adjusts to the speed and nuances of the NFL game.

Tomlin mentioned before that both Austin and Pickens are making some mistakes early in camp, but are doing a good job of learning from those mistakes and not making the same mistakes twice. That shows understanding and development from both rookie receivers, and Heyward has made a mental note of that when watching Pickens in practice, seeing a potential issue in his technique, but also recognizing Pickens adapting and changing to stay on his feet and be more of a threat after the catch.

When it came to what Heyward has noticed thus far from Calvin Austin III, the rookie’s key defining trait sticks out above anything else to the NFL veteran: speed.

“Calvin Austin… what a speed demon, and he knows how to play with it,” Heyward said. “Chris Johnson was just the same: a speedier guy that you could put in space and have success. Obviously, they’re two different players, but when they get in space, they’re very similar in the fact that they can hit the hole and really make a defense pay.”

Calvin Austin III was known for his speed and explosiveness coming out of Memphis, having averaged 16.3 YPR during his college career as both a deep threat as well as a player that can hurt you in the short game, catching a pass near the LOS and getting loose for a long run after the catch. He also was dangerous as a runner, taking eight career carries for 169 yards and three TDs, two of which went for 69 and 83 yards, respectively.

Earning the comparison to Chris Johnson from a guy like Cam Heyward is significant praise toward Austin, especially considering Heyward was more conservative of praise on Pickens despite his hot start to training camp. Heyward made a great point though in comparing the two speedsters, saying they possess more than just track speed. Obviously, Austin was a successful track athlete in high school and at Memphis, while Johnson tore up the track during his high school days as well. However, that speed translates to the gridiron as both players know how to use that speed in space and pull away from defenders in pursuit.

While Austin often has taken a backseat to Pickens in terms of hype from the outside media and those attending training in camp in Latrobe, Heyward has noticed the impact his speed brings to the game. For a team that has been lacking that spark in the offense the last couple of seasons, Austin looks primed to make an impact as a big play threat with the ball in his hands for the Steelers hopefully sooner rather than later in 2022.

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