Tomorrow marks the start of the Pittsburgh’s offseason team activities (OTAs), going from Tuesday, May 23 to Thursday, June 8 with mandatory minicamp to follow from Tuesday, June 13 to Thursday, June 15. The team will be bringing everyone together, from the seasoned veterans who have been on the teams for years to the rookies just getting their feet wet in the NFL for team workouts and some on-field work.
The players are just running around in jerseys with no shoulder pads, so judging them on their performances can be a little skewed until the team gets together for training camp later in the summer when actual football gets to be played. Still, you want to see points of progress from certain players during these activities, and Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report named WR Calvin Austin III, DL DeMarvin Leal, and QB Kenny Pickett as three potential breakout players to watch for during Pittsburgh’s OTAs and minicamp.
“The 6’4″, 283-pound Leal is more of a hybrid tackle/end who can play a similar role to those of Heyward and Ogunjobi,” Knox said. “He’ll get every opportunity to emerge this offseason, and the former 5-star recruit has the physical tools to do it.”
Leal played all over the defensive front for Pittsburgh last season, logging 110 defensive snaps with his hand in the dirt and 69 in a standup position on the edge in 2022 according to our charting. A player that could be considered a tweener due to his lack of positional fit as a base DE and a standup OLB in Pittsburgh’s defensive system, both GM Omar Khan and HC Mike Tomlin have been touting Leal’s versatility this offseason. Both expect Leal to see action in both facets of the game like last season and don’t want to pigeonhole him into one spot to limit that versatility. Still, Leal needs to find a relative home this offseason in OTAs and minicamp to better contribute in 2023 as a defensive lineman or as an edge rusher.
“While the Steelers added Allen Robinson II to its receiver room this offseason, the team has a long history of successfully drafting and developing its own wideouts,” Knox said of Austin. “That trend should continue with Austin, even if the veteran’s presence keeps the 24-year-old in a complementary role early. Expect Austin to show off his playmaking potential during offseason workouts.”
Calvin Austin III brings a dynamic to the WR core no other pass catcher on the team does thanks to his game-changing speed and explosiveness. He ran a 4.32 40 and the NFL Combine last year and posted a 4.07 short shuttle, a 6.65 three-cone, a 39.0” vert, and a 11’3” broad jump. You see that speed on tape during his time at Memphis, getting the ball in space and showing off his ability to create YAC after the catch as well as his ability to win vertically down the field as a deep threat. He should be fully healthy from the foot injury he suffered in training camp last season and would bring a much-needed big play threat in the passing game as well as a returner to the team in Year Two.
“Expect Pickett to take some positive strides this offseason and for Canada to open up the playbook a bit since the Pittsburgh product is now entrenched as the starter,” Knox said on Pickett. “Also expect the second-year quarterback to make more than a few highlight reels while tossing passes to players such as Austin, Robinson, George Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth during summer workouts.”
It’ll be hard to judge Pickett’s performance in OTAs and minicamp throwing against air to wide-open receivers, but the key is to see the maturation in the second year QB from 2022 where we saw flashes down the stretch to a more consistent passer that can command an offense for an entire game. The Athletic named Pickett as one of their plays to watch during OTAs, stating that the second offseason for any QB is crucial for the growth and development of any young passer in the league. That remains the case for Pickett as he has no excuses heading into 2023, having a vastly improved OL, receiving core, and stout defense to rely on. Should he make the necessary leap, Pittsburgh should be considered a playoff contender in the AFC conference.