Fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson “was not a full participant” in the first practice of training camp on Wednesday. That opened the door for rookie George Pickens to work with Mitch Trubisky, with fellow rookie receiver Calvin Austin III getting his opportunities with the second team.
“Austin impressed in his first career professional camp practice, but second-round receiver George Pickens stood out even more,” observed Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “The 6-foot-3 former Georgia star had a long catch off a pass from Trubisky down the far sideline. Pickens also almost had the catch of the day — (on a) a leaping, fully-extended horizontal dive,” except the ball was dislodged when he hit the ground.
“Most importantly, Pickens exclusively took reps with the first-team offense,” added Adamski. “Diontae Johnson’s absence in drills contributed to that, of course, but that a rookie was slotted immediately so high on the depth chart speaks to what coaches think of Pickens’ ability.”
This photo — by Alexandra Wimley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — illustrates some of what the Steelers might have in terms of Pickens’ athleticism and body control:
Here’s what looks to be the same catch — captured on video.
Pickens is ‘Gonna Make Some Crazy Plays This Year’
Austin told Brian Batko of the Post-Gazette that he expects Pickens to make a big impression this season.
“He’s gonna make some crazy plays this year, and I mean some crazy plays,” offered Austin.
That dovetails with what an NFL scout recently told Evan Massey, saying, “This kid is the real deal. Pittsburgh may end up looking back and viewing him as the steal of the entire draft. He’s got that kind of potential.”
Former Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington has taken note of his talent, too, tweeting: “I’m excited bout watching George Pickens in that black n gold!!!”
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Cleveland Fan ‘Sick’ That the Browns Didn’t Draft Pickens
Notably, Pickens ended up trending on NFL Twitter on Wednesday, prompting exasperated tweets from fans of other clubs, questioning why their teams didn’t recognize Pickens’ potential.
There was this item from a Chicago fan, who said he’s “pissed” that the Bears didn’t draft Pickens.
One Baltimore Ravens fan resorted to posting this gif.
Moreover, a Browns fan said he’s going to be “forever sick” that Cleveland didn’t select Pickens, who was drafted No. 52 overall out of the University of Georgia. To be fair, though, the Browns never had the chance, as Pickens was off the board before Cleveland made its first selection.
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Mark Kaboly: ‘Austin is Fast’
Meanwhile, rookie fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III did some impressing of his own on Wednesday afternoon, thanks in large part to his speed.
“Austin is fast,” observed Mark Kaboly of The Athletic after practice. “We all knew that when the Steelers drafted him in the fourth round in April, after he ran a 4.32 at the combine in February. But to see it up close and in a practice setting was eye-opening for the fans watching and surely offensive coordinator Matt Canada.”
Kaboly says that Austin made the most “dynamic” play of Day 1 when he “took a smoke route from [quarterback Mason] Rudolph, got a kick-out block from Gunner Olszewski and sped 61 yards to the end zone for a touchdown on a pass that barely went past the line of scrimmage.”
The longtime Steelers beat reporter has video of Austin talking about the play, in which he insists that he wasn’t using all of his available speed.
“I didn’t even put on the after-burners. If someone were closer, I had another gear or two left for sure,” he said, winking at the camera.
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