When a drafted rookie gets injured, ending his season, it can be viewed in multiple ways. People like Mike Tomlin will view the second year player, with no tangible NFL experience, as an extra rookie with the following class. For others, they see it as an uphill battle for a player who hasn’t had any on field experience.
This would be the case for wide receiver Calvin Austin III, the team’s 4th Round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Memphis. Austin was present for offseason workouts like minicamp and Organized Team Activities (OTAs). The speedster was even making an impact in training camp before he injured his foot the last practice before the team’s first preseason game.
Starting the year on Injured Reserve (IR), Austin had healed to the point where he had his 21-day clock started as he returned to practice. Nonetheless, the hopes of watching Austin take the top off a defense were short-lived as he re-injured his foot causing season-ending surgery.
Austin was present at the open locker room session for media following the Steelers’ season ending and was asked about the jump from Year 1 to Year 2, even without playing in his rookie season. Who would he be leaning on to help him this offseason?
“I think that I can really lean on everybody.” Austin said. “The older guys, like Diontae, has had ups and downs throughout his NFL career, so he can help me if I have trouble with that kind of thing. He even invited me down to his home in Florida to get in some training and stuff.
“Really, just the whole staff here, Gie [Garrett Giemont], Marcel [Pastoor], Rodain [Delus], Daveon [Lee] does such a great job in the training room, and those other guys in the weight room, and everyone in the organization has helped get me back. Just throughout this whole process, like I said, it has been very eye-opening. I’m just very appreciative to be here. They put me in a good head space.”
When it comes to his fellow rookies, Austin would be lying if he didn’t say he wasn’t excited about going forward with his fellow rookies for 2023 and beyond.
“That was probably the hardest part, and the best part, to see those guys out there balling.” Austin admitted. “Seeing Connor [Heyward], GP [George Pickens], DeMarvin [Leal], Kenny, obviously, Mark [Robinson], seeing everybody out there balling just made me happy to see.
“I was just saying to someone, it just felt like we were at rookie minicamp just a couple of days ago and now we’re at the end of the season. Just to see their growth, and I know going into this offseason, this summer, and Lord willing, going into next season, there are some big plans. We’ve all got that mindset that we know we just dipped our toe in the water this season and will continue to take steps to improve and get ready for next year.”
Throughout Tomlin’s tenure as the Steelers head coach he often says a rookie who misses his first season will be viewed as a second year professional. Does this put added pressure on Austin to come into minicamp and OTAs ready to prove himself?
“With Coach Tomlin, he is always a guy that, the train isn’t going to stop moving. When we step onto this field, we’re always about getting better and growing.” said Austin. “I would imagine that’s what his mindset is, and that’s what my mindset is for myself.
“I was in all the meetings and out at practice. Of course, I didn’t get those game reps that are very much needed and valuable, but as far as my mindset that’s probably the biggest thing for rookies. The physical aspect of it is important, but the mental is one thing that can really slow rookies in their development. I feel as though I have a good grip on that. I feel like next season that I’ll be right there with them.”
If Austin can step onto the field in Year 2 with the mental aspect of the game already mastered, and all he has to do is get into the rhythm of the offense, it would be a huge addition to the Steelers offense. Austin possesses the speed the Steelers desire to take the proverbial top off a defense and to open up things for other underneath.
Whether Austin can stay healthy is now the focus moving forward, and there’s only one way for him to prove that.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they prepare for the offseason.