Coming out of Memphis, the biggest knock on Calvin Austin was his size. When he measured in under 5’8 at the NFL Combine, it wasn’t a surprise but the lack of prototypical size for the position surely played a big part in him falling all the day way to day three of the NFL Draft. Still available in round four, the value for a player this talented was simply too hard for the Pittsburgh Steelers to pass up.
Since that weekend, all Austin has done is impress throughout Steelers training camp.
During one-on-one drills, the Memphis product has been a handful to cover on seemingly ever rep, regardless of who’s lined up across from him. He’s seen a lot of matchups against first team nickel corner Arthur Maulet and he’s excelled in those battles.
When you watch Austin, the first thing that really pops is his short area quickness and change of direction. He’s a master at selling routes with pace and head fakes while getting in and out of his breaks with ease. Obviously given his size, he doesn’t have the longest strides but there is little wasted motion in any of his routes.
Given his diminutive frame, many are quick to label him as solely a gadget type of player which is disrespectful to the other areas of his game. However, Austin aligned as the Tigers X receiver in college, playing mostly outside on the boundary and excelling at it. Austin’s ability to beat press coverage is noteworthy, as he possesses a calculated release package and swift footwork to beat close coverage.
For a team like the Steelers who were dead last in explosive play rate last season, Austin’s speed is a breath of fresh air. His ability to eat up a bunch of space quickly is something that the Steelers really have lacked in recent seasons. He’s already caught several deep balls in training camp and has been working on developing a rapport with all of Pittsburgh’s signal callers including Mitch Trubisky.
So far, Austin and Trubisky’s deep ball has been on display quiet a bit.
“Each one was designed for me to go deep and that’s where I make my bread and butter,” Austin said on the deep balls. “Mitch put it exactly where it needed to be. Mitch knows that I’m a fast guy so he’s throwing it before I’m even out of my break.”
Many of the deep shot plays thrown to Austin during training camp have seemingly come while working on the outside. New wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson has preached to his players that he wants them to be able to work at all of the spots, whether that be inside or outside to make the offense more interchangeable. While Austin will likely see the majority of his playing time come in the slot this season, it’s not out of the question for him to see reps outside given his skill set and overall experience working there in college.
Positional flexibility isn’t the only coaching point that Austin is receiving from coach Jackson.
“My attention to detail and always keeping my eyes up on each play,” Austin said on pointers from Jackson. “Going in motion, seeing the coverages, reading the defenses leverage and the cornerbacks feet. He’s extremely detailed.”
While he’s currently listed as fourth string on the Steelers depth chart, he likely won’t be there for long. Austin will have a good shot at being the squads WR4 behind Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and fellow rookie receiver George Pickens. Pittsburgh has plenty of weapons at their disposal so Austin’s usage will undoubtedly be reduced from his college days but he can play a huge role in the offenses improvement this season.
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The Steelers will find creative ways to get him the football early on in a search for those explosive plays as Austin’s a threat to take it to the house each time he touches the rock. During camp, we’ve already seen him take a screen pass and take it the distance after maneuvering his way through several would be tacklers. A big part of the Matt Canada offense runs through their jet motion actions, something that Austin will surely play a part in.
His role may branch out beyond the offensive side of the football, as well. Austin only returned 29 punts while at Memphis but he boasted an impressive 11.1 yards per return while taking two of those all the way in for scores. We’ve seen him field some punts in practice, leading the assumption that he’ll get that opportunity in the preseason.
With his blazing speed on display, Austin will be one of the more exciting players to watch during preseason. How involved he’ll be in the teams offense in the regular season could very well be determined by the amount of success he has in the next couple weeks. The road to proving his doubters wrong begins against the Seattle Seahawks.
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