Steelers’ Patrick Peterson Issues Challenge to WR Calvin Austin III

Calvin Austin III

Getty Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson challenged young receiver Calvin Austin III as the team prepares to face the Cleveland Browns without Donate Johnson.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to play just their third game without wide receiver Diontae Johnson in the lineup since the start of the 2019 season. But of Johnson’s five seasons in the league, the Steelers appear as capable as ever at replacing their leading wideout.

Second-year receiver George Pickens and veteran Allen Robinson look ready for bigger roles. But on September 13, Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson placed a lot of the responsibility of replacing Johnson on former 2022 fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III.

“We all know Calvin has top-end speed. He can run past anybody,” Peterson told reporters on September 13. “But you know, now, he’s probably gotta be in a different role. He’s gonna have to probably run a little bit more routes now versus being whatever his role was when Diontae [Johnson] was in the lineup.”

Austin caught 6 passes during his NFL debut against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. But most of those receptions came on screen passes and didn’t lead to much yardage.

The 24-year-old averaged just 6.2 yards per catch. His longest reception went for 13 yards, and that was his only catch of more than 9 yards.

Three of Austin’s six receptions in Week 1 were 5 yards or less.

Steelers’ Calvin Austin III Putting on ‘His Big Boy Pants,” Says Patrick Peterson

Pickens has the opportunity to become Pittsburgh’s top receiver with Johnson out of the lineup. Johnson suffered a hamstring injury against the 49ers.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on September 12 that Johnson “is expected to be sidelined for a few weeks.”

Robinson, who was one of Pittsburgh’s lone bright spots on offense in Week 1, should see a lot more targets too. He had 5 receptions for 64 yards versus San Francisco.

The Steelers could use a boost from Austin as well. Peterson implied he is looking forward to seeing what the 24-year-old will do with the opportunity.

“It’s gonna kinda interesting to see how Calvin grows up this week because now he has his big boy pants on, so I’m excited to see him work,” Peterson told reporters. “He had a great spring and training camp, so now it’s time for him to go out there and put it to work.”

Austin missed his entire rookie season because of a foot injury. Even still, big things have been expected from Austin since the team selected him early on Day 3 in the 2022 draft.

At Memphis, he posted back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns in 2020 and 2021. He also scored 22 total touchdowns in 23 games during those seasons.

Other Ways the Steelers Will Try to Replace Johnson’s Production

Pickens, Robinson and Austin are the obvious players the Steelers need more from to replace Johnson. The team’s tight ends, though, could also prove to be very important to the passing game in the coming weeks.

Pat Freiermuth scored the team’s only touchdown in Week 1 despite only securing 1 catch on 4 targets. The Steelers will very likely funnel more targets to Freiermuth against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2.

Fellow tight ends Darnell Washington and Connor Heyward should see more opportunities too. Heyward was one of four Steelers to record a 10-plus yard reception on September 10 with an 11-yard grab. Washington didn’t have a target, but he played 24 snaps and fared well as a blocker.

The Steelers should utilize Washington’s 6-foot-7 frame in the red zone.

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin likes to say it takes more than one player to replace a star. That’s the case with replicating Johnson’s production.

Austin, though, will certainly be one of the keys to accomplishing that difficult feat.

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