As Pickens stars, Austin III developing as useful option

Steelers rookie WR getting reps with first, second teams throughout camp

Steelers rookie wide receiver George Pickens has — and justifiably so — been getting many of the headlines and much of the love during the first two weeks of training camp practices at Saint Vincent College.

But it’s another rookie receiver, and Pickens’ current roommate, who is also carving out a spot on the 53-man roster with each passing rep.

Calvin Austin III continues to provide a stable, speedy option underneath for whatever quarterback he works with. And now, just a few days away from his first actual NFL game, he’s hoping to continue to impress.

“It’s exciting,” Austin said Wednesday following the team’s 14th practice in Latrobe. “It’s a testament to God, really… how far I’ve come. Getting to put on a Steelers jersey is just amazing. I’m just blessed to be able to do it.

“We have some practices before, so (I have to) make those count. And when Saturday comes we’ll come out ready and it’ll be very exciting.”

Austin has, in a way, been living in the large, developing shadow of second-round pick George Pickens, who has taken Steelers camp by storm and not just looked like the team’s best rookie, but one of their best players period.

“He’s made some plays that I haven’t seen too many people make,” Austin said of Pickens, who had a pair of sensational grabs during the team's two-minute drill Wednesday. “It’s good though because he’s a young guy too, but he’s got that mindset where he wants to kill, and just work. We’re constantly just pushing each other to be the best we can be.”

Wednesday, Austin got matched up, during one-on-one drills, with rookie defensive back Chris Steele. Austin gave the USC alum a quick move, and burned by him for a long gain off a fly route.

“(Steelers wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson) is always challenging me about working with me on my intermediate routes and stuff like that, because I’ve always got, in my back pocket, the ability to go vertical,” said Austin, who starred in football and track at Memphis before running a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. “That’s always something I can do.”

Austin, who has gotten some run with the first and second teams throughout camp, now has the luxury of looking within his own receiver’s room to get a nice case study on what he could potentially become.

Diontae Johnson, who just signed a $18 million per year contract extension with Pittsburgh was, like Austin, a mid-round draft pick. Just three years later and Johnson is one of the highest paid wideouts in football.

“He set the precedent,” Austin said. “To see how he was a later round pick and many receivers went before him, he showed that, regardless of where he was drafted, he was one of the top receivers in his class and didn’t let no noise, no talks get to him. That’s definitely an example to follow.”

But long before he can think about the next pay day, Austin is focusing in on earning a spot in the Steelers’ offense. He feels like he’s growing, daily, alongside the entire unit.

It’s one that hopes, no matter the passer of the football, that it will be able to move the ball and score at will, or at least better than it did in 2021.

“Chemistry wise, play wise… you can definitely tell that we’re making those strides that we need to be making,” Austin said. “When everybody does their job, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

“We talk, as an offensive unit, about how we don’t get stopped. We stop ourselves, if anything.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Ben Tenuta, Audacy