Saturday, May 14
Measuring up: Fourth-round wide receiver Calvin Austin III knows he's a little guy in a land of relative giants, but the former Memphis track star and Memphis football walk-on maintained he isn't quite as little as his 5-foot-9, 162 pounds listing on the rookie minicamp roster suggests.
"That was my weight like my sophomore year in college," Austin insisted. "I've been, these past months, between 170 and 175.
"I haven't been 162 in a minute."
That still doesn't qualify Austin to play power forward on the offseason basketball team.
But he's convinced he's plenty big enough for the Steelers, in part because of an intangible that can't be measured.
"I would just say my heart," Austin offered. "When I get out there, it has never been a thing where I'm just like, 'Man, these guys are big,' or 'I'm small.' I've never felt that way. When I get out there, I'm a 'dawg.'
"When I'm on the field, I have no fear."
Austin often heard he was too small growing up.
"I would go to camps and have great showings, I'd run a fast 40," he recalled. "But they'd always be like 'your size, you gotta get bigger, your weight.' I kinda wrote down in my phone, in my notes, all the things that coaches have said to me in the past about that.
"That's kinda my motivation."
Austin said he's been hearing such things since he was in ninth grade, when he played cornerback as a freshman at 5-4, 130.
At one camp he was even told he should be talking to Division III schools.
"I'll never forget that," he said.
He also never believed it.
"I believe in God, that he has bigger plans for me," Austin said. "And I have a great support system. My family, my mom, my dad, my sisters, they all believe in me.
"One of the biggest and most important quotes I live by is, 'You're supposed to do it for the people who believe in you. Don't do it for the people who don't believe in you.' That's kinda what I live by."
Like anyone else on the field, Austin has taken his share of hits.
He remembered one against SMU in 2019 that knocked his mouthpiece out.
But he's never been deterred.
"I took plenty of big hits," Austin maintained. "The best thing about that is poppin' up right after and flexin' on 'em.
"I think I've always been the smallest guy on my team. But, for instance, in the weight room, I'd always be one of the strongest-per-pound people.
"That size factor, it's never been anything to me."
Friday, May 13
Off to a good start for Pickett: The Steelers kicked off their rookie minicamp on Friday morning at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, with a mix of 17 rookies, including the teams seven draft picks, six first-year players and 28 players there on a tryout basis.
It all began with a walkthrough, giving the group a chance to get to know the system a little before taking part in their first real practice.
And for first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett, the quarterback from Pitt, it's a chance just to get to know the names of the players he is lining up with on offense, and across from on defense.
"It was great," said Pickett. "'I'm just trying to learn the guy's names. I really haven't got a chance to meet anybody. We've been in meetings. I want to call guys out to help and stuff and talk and I have no clue who I am talking to."
Pickett's plan the rest of the day was to talk with as many of his teammates as possible, getting to know them because the thing he wants more than anything is for the rest of the practices to run smoothly, something that was a priority for him in college as well.
"I would say we're kind of doing a good job of taking this a step at a time, really taking it slow," said Pickett. "It's a walkthrough, but guys really want to run fast. I know everyone's excited to practice, so we'll see how it goes in a couple hours."
While it is rookie minicamp, a time when it's all about learning for the players, Pickett also knows that it can help set the foundation for what is going to be a quarterback competition with Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, and he has to make every moment count.
"This is what I have to do. I have no shot if I don't know what I'm doing," said Pickett. "I'm really dedicating myself to the playbook and learning every detail I possibly can. I want to have a smooth practice with these guys and hopefully everyone looks good."
Pickett has an advantage of having some familiarity with offensive coordinator Matt Canada's system. Canada recruited him to Pitt, and while Canada left the school before Pickett's freshman year, the formations he ran remained, even if the offense wasn't the same. That, along with Pickett's devotion to being the best, will benefit him as he works toward being able to contribute early on to the offense.
"I think it's all mental," said Pickett. "I know what I have to do. Know the responsibilities of everybody else on the offense. Learn new defenses that are in the NFL. There's a lot that goes into it. I'm excited to dedicate myself to it and obsess over trying to be the best I can be and learning as much as I can."
Hearing from Ben: Pickett said he has talked to both Trubisky and Rudolph, but he also got a call from recently retired quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who offered him any help he needs.
"He said he's always there for me if I have any questions or advice," said Pickett. "He's an unbelievable player, Hall of Famer. He's a guy that I'll definitely use as a resource in the coming weeks here."
Familiar faces: Among those taking part in rookie minicamp on a tryout basis are Mississippi College linebacker Gavin Greene, the son of late Steelers Hall of Fame llinebacker Kevin Greene, and South Carolina linebacker Damani Staley, the son of Duce Staley, a former Steelers running back now coaching with the Lions. In addition, several local college players are trying out, including Pitt's Tre Tipton and Chase Pine, Robert Morris' Tavin Harville and Duquesne's Leandro Debrito.
Steelers' rookies take the field for rookie minicamp
Been there, blocked that: It wouldn't be a reach to perceive Connor Heyward as a sixth-round pick without a specific position.
But it would, likewise, be accurate to assess Heyward as a player who has blocked players who have already been perceived by NFL teams as NFL-caliber edge defenders.
"Every week in the Big Ten you're playing somebody that's elite on the edge," Heyward acknowledged after the initial on-the-field session of rookie minicamp today at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson (second overall, Detroit) and David Ojabo (second round, Baltimore) and Purdue's George Karlaftis (30th overall, Kansas City) were among the defenders Heyward was asked to block last season at Michigan State.
"Penn State had some guys, Ohio State," Heyward continued. "I played Purdue. I played Hutchinson, Ojabo. I think I held my own. I got the best of them sometimes. They got the best of me, as well.
"I think they sharpened my path to get me to this point."
Heyward is being listed at 6-foot and 230 pounds by the Steelers, and classified as a tight end/fullback.
"I'm about 238," he insisted. "I know I have to gain a little weight, do it the right way. I know I'm a good football player and I have good leverage so I can beat the bigger guys, that works in my advantage.
"It's all about competing and 'want to.'"
Heyward arrived at Michigan State as a running back but eventually settled into a tight end/H-back role as a senior.
The 1,636 rushing yards amassed last season by Spartans by running back Kenneth Walker III (second round, Seattle) are a reflection of the effectiveness of Heyward, among others, as a blocker.
"You can always get better at blocking," Heyward said. "You can always get better at a lot of things. I was a good blocker but I'm still trying to improve because I know at the next level there are going to be better guys."
Heyward also contributed big plays in the passing game at Michigan State. He anticipates having a role in that department, among others, on his NFL plate.
"They're going to do a lot of things with me," he said. "I'm just gonna embrace my role.
"I'm looking forward to everything."
His first on-field experience playing for his brother Cam's team was less of a concern to Conner than taking his first steps toward earning his keep.
"It's all about work," Heyward maintained. "It was cool right after I got drafted and everything. This is a business and I know I need to take care of my business."