Steelers Calvin Austin has a clear path to playing time once off IR

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin II (19). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin II (19). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Steelers fourth-round pick is on track to return from injured reserve, and he should have an instant role on the team.

The Steelers have already seen some contributions come by way of one rookie receiver in George Pickens, but no one should be forgetting about Calvin Austin. Taken in the fourth round, the undersized speedster made an impact early at camp before getting injured. He was placed on the initial injured reserve list, but the team has activated his 21-day practice timeline in hopes that he can return to the roster.

While the receiver room is already relatively deep, Austin has a huge opportunity in front of him right now. While his offensive contributions will likely be minimal at first as he gets acclimated, the return game could certainly use a spark. While not a notable returner in school, Austin has all of the traits that you look for in a punt and kick returner.

The Steelers current returner has been a liability

Gunner Olszewski manned the return role in the first four weeks for the Steelers. After losing Ray-Ray McCloud in the offseason, the Steelers were quick to turn to Olszewski. However, Steven Sims vocalized that he will be the return man this week, per Chris Adamski.

To say the least, the results have not been good with Olszewski. While many have lamented about his offensive touches (he has two of them, and both were relatively predictable), I don’t care what he does on offense. He was signed as a special teams player, and anything extra you get out of him is a bonus, not the expectation.

He has been a liability to this point on returns. He has fumbled twice, which is really bad considering he has only fielded seven total returns so far this season. For a Steelers team that is struggling to produce both offensively and defensively, additional turnovers on special teams can quickly become game-enders.

Beyond just the fumbles, Olszewski has been mediocre when actually returning kicks and punts. While not a huge element of the NFL game anymore, he is averaging 7.2 yards per punt and a paltry 9.5 yards per kick return. In reference, McCloud averaged 9.7 and 22.2 yards per return respectively.

Austin fits the mold of a returner

Sims might be another short-term fix, and his role as the return man may not last long. While he wasn’t always used there in college, Calvin Austin’s change of pace and straight-line speed makes him a natural return man. He is lauded for his solid hands as well, as it was a positive trait of his coming out of Memphis. Returns would be a natural way for him to see the field early in his career.

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With Olszewski struggling and Austin nearing a return, all eyes should be on what the team does at returner. While Steven Sims will also likely feature in this discussion, Olszewski has to be put on notice. As for Austin, his best way to see consistent action is to insert himself into the return man competition.