As of this writing, the Pittsburgh Steelers are carrying seven wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster. That is going to change in the near future. But with rookie fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III back on the practice field in a helmet yesterday, it doesn’t appear that the most immediate course of action is to put him on the Reserve/Injured List.
The Memphis product suffered a foot injury on the Friday before the Steelers’ first preseason game. Since then, he had participated very little, if at all, in practice. He certainly was never back on the field by the time they left Saint Vincent College. But there is a photo of him in a helmet from yesterday’s practice, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada spoke of him yesterday as a player who is about ready to work.
“We saw a lot through camp, and we were very, very excited about him”, he told reporters yesterday about Austin, via the team’s website. “We’re still excited about him and disappointed that he got hurt. As he comes back and is ready to play, we’ll get ourselves ready to go with him and see where he’s at”.
Still, he cautioned that all of that missed time for such a young player is not going to be free of consequences. He missed a lot of valuable reps, and the coaches missed out on seeing what he could do. We simply don’t know what he looks like in-stadium because he didn’t get a chance to play, and that will hurt his chances of playing early in his rookie season.
“Certainly, missing those preseason games is going to slow his growth because those are chances to see him in the stadium with live reps against other competition”, Canada said. “It’s disappointing for him that we didn’t get to see that, but as soon as he’s able to go we’ll get him going and see where we are. But I certainly am excited about it”.
Steelers fans are excited about it, too, but odds are they’re going to have to be patient. Aside from the fact that Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and rookie second-round pick George Pickens are all going to see extensive playing time at the position, they also have Gunner Olszewski in the slot, who has seen plenty of work with the first-team offense and has a rapport with all of the quarterbacks.
And on top of that, they have not one but two further veterans on the depth chart, at least for the time being, in Miles Boykin and Steven Sims, both of whom have meaningful NFL experience and can be called upon to contribute now.
That’s not to say that they don’t want to get Austin on the field, but given the circumstances, they’re not going to push it. It’s not as though they’re hurting for talent at the position right now. But that won’t stop fans (including myself) from wanting to see what Austin can do inside of a stadium.