Steelers camp notes: Kenny Pickett must adjust to Calvin Austin's speed

  • Austin isn't going to win in the same way as Pickens
  • Here's why Pickett needs to adjust his ball placement
Steelers, Calvin Austin III
Steelers, Calvin Austin III / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I spent the weekend in Latrobe for Steelers training camp practice -- something I do each year. While I was there, I took notes of some things that stood out to me the most. When it comes to the passing game, George Pickens is drawing all of the buzz among receivers right now thanks to his innate ability to win at the catch point. However, it's clear that Calvin Austin III offers something no Steelers receiver has had in years: game-changing speed.

This speed is every bit as evident when you watch him in person as it is when you put on his Memphis tape. At the 2022 NFL Combine, Austin clocked an official 4.32 40-yard dash -- putting him the 96th percentile compared to all NFL receivers, according to Mockdraftable's database.

This elite speed wasn't hard to spot at Steelers camp. On several occasions, quarterback Kenny Pickett looked for Austin down the sideline. The speedy receiver would often have his man beaten, but Pickett couldn't deliver an accurate pass, as the ball was usually a bit behind.

Pickett needs to adjust to Calvin Austin's speed

Because Calvin Austin measures in at 5'7 3/4'' and 170 pounds with just 30'' arms, Kenny Pickett doesn't have the luxury of just lofting the ball up and letting his receiver track it down. This is something that he was able to do with players like George Pickens, Allen Robinson II, and Hakeem Butler at Steelers training camp.

Austin is a much different breed of receiver. Part of the reason these two players have had trouble connecting with more frequency is that Pickett's balls are often a bit underthrown. To be fair, this is exactly how Pickens likes them. When a defender is face-guarding the big receiver can turn around and snag a back-shoulder grab over smaller cornerbacks. But this isn't how Austin is going to win.

In the few passes I witnessed that were behind Austin, the smaller receiver unsurprisingly had trouble fighting back though traffic to reach back for the ball. This is something that Pickett must recognize and correct. He can't throw the same way to Austin downfield as he would to Pickens.

Instead of trying to make the safe throw, Pickett needs to trust that Austin has enough speed to track down the ball. This means that leading his receiver so far that it almost feels like an overthrow. Unfortunately, despite watching Steelers practices all weekend, I didn't witness a single downfield pass in which Pickett was able to hit Austin in stride.

Opposite Steelers WR types makes adjustments more challenging

While many fans might jump to the conclusion that Pickett doesn't have a big enough arm down the field, this isn't the issue here. Rather, Pickett simply needs to get used to how much faster Austin is than every other reciever on the team. Once he does, this could be a beautiful connection that is hard to defend.

For Kenny Pickett, it's not going to be easy going from throwing back-shoulder passes to a 6'3 1/4'' George Pickens to leading a 5'7 3/4'' Calvin Austin with 4.3 speed in perfect stride deep down the field. Despite all the differences amongst Pittsburgh's receivers, these are the adjustments that NFL quarterbacks have to make.

If Pickett can start leading Austin and hitting him in stride, the wide receiver's elite speed will take care of the rest. Remember, Austin missed most of training camp with a foot injury last year, and they never had the opportunity to develop chemistry in 2022. I would expect these two players to develop a stronger chemistry with each other by the start of the 2023 season.