Rookie wide receiver Calvin Austin III is eligible to return to practice this week, but Mike Tomlin did not say whether or not the team will open up his 21-day window to return. Speaking during his Tuesday press conference, Tomlin was asked about Austin’s status.
“He’s eligible to come off this week, that starts his 21 day window,” he said via Steelers.com. “The quality of his work and what he’s able to do within that window oftentimes determines what you do from there.”
Austin has dealt with a foot injury since early August, hurt right before the team’s first preseason game. The specific nature of the injury was never revealed. For the rest of camp while he was hurt, Austin walked down the stairs and onto the practice field without a crutch or boot, suggesting the injury wasn’t incredibly serious. But the team placed him on injured reserve to begin the season, keeping him out at least the first four games. That time has now passed but Tomlin declined committing to open up Austin’s practice window.
Once his window opens, the Steelers will have 21 days to either activate him off injured reserve and onto their 53-man roster or keep him on IR for the remainder of the season.
During the brief time in which he practiced, Austin flashed his 4.32 speed in training camp. Here’s what we wrote about him in our post-camp analysis.
“Austin did most of his damage deep downfield or at/behind the line of scrimmage, getting involved in the jet/pop pass game and showing quickness. He carried the ball four times for 21 yards and had a couple other pop passes, jet runs…he needs to make more an impact in the middle of the field and his catch radius is small, leading to drops and passes that clang off his hands, dropping two passes and missing a couple other opportunities due to his frame. The early returns showed promise but the injury is derailing him”
Even if Austin begins to practice this week, it’s unlikely he’ll play in this weekend’s game against the Buffalo Bills. For any player, especially a rookie, he’ll need time to regain his football conditoning and earn the coaches trust to be part of the 53-man roster, requiring a corresponding move. Typically, players spend at least two weeks practicing before being activated. If Austin practices this week, it’s more likely he suits up in Week 6 against Tampa Bay at the earliest.
Pittsburgh drafted Austin in the fourth round of this year’s draft. A playmaker at Memphis, Austin caught 156 passes for 2,541 yards and 22 receiving touchdowns while rushing for three more. He also saw work as a punt returner with two career touchdowns.