Entering the 2022 regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have six players on their Reserve/Injured List, although only two of them were moved after the final roster cuts, making them eligible to be designated for return. One of them is veteran safety Damontae Kazee, who was injured in the preseason finale. The other is rookie fourth-round wide receiver Calvin Austin III, who never managed to play in the preseason.
Even without Austin, the Steelers are still going into the year with six wide receivers, the majority of them with good NFL experience. The only players who are largely untested offensively are potential rookie breakout George Pickens and free agent addition Gunner Olszewski, who has looked fairly nifty working out of the slot all summer.
In other words, I would not necessarily anticipate the Steelers feeling any kind of urgency to get Austin back as soon as possible. Indeed, the very fact that they placed him on the Reserve/Injured List could point to that.
A player who is on the Reserve/Injured List, as of the 2022 season, must remain there for at least four games (not four weeks) from the time that they were placed on the list. Beyond that, they are also ineligible to practice for that time.
Which means that Austin will not have practiced in any significant sense, so far as we know, from August 12, when he originally injured his foot, until October 4, the Tuesday after the Steelers’ fourth game of the regular season against the New York Jets.
That tells me either that Austin’s injury was a lot more serious than we originally believed, which is certainly possible, or they simply acknowledge that it’s very difficult for a rookie to catch on after missing so much practice time.
Recall the 2017 season when then-rookie third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton began the season on the Reserve/Injured List. Though he was healthy for much of the time that he was on the list, the Steelers did not begin allowing him to practice, and thus opening the window during which he must either be activated or remain on IR, until the cornerback position was hit with injuries in the second half of the season.
Just because a player who is on IR is healthy enough to practice doesn’t mean he is going to. Obviously, he must be dealing with an injury for him to be eligible to be on IR now, even though he was in a helmet the day before, but is he dealing with an injury that would be certain to prevent him from practicing more for the next five weeks, at least?
It really didn’t sound that way the way they were speaking about him, and about how he himself spoke about where he was in terms of making it back to the practice field. It’s possible the picture we saw of him on the field was his test practice that showed them he’s not ready.
Or it’s possible that they simply realized they have enough talent at wide receiver that they don’t need to rely upon a rookie who hasn’t practiced in several weeks and has never been in a stadium before. He could potentially wind up staying on IR for much of the season, far beyond four weeks, unless an issue at the wide receiver position arises.