During the week of Senior Bowl practices down in Mobile, Alabama, former Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin III stood out for plenty of reasons. For one, at 5-foot-7 3/8 and 173 pounds, he’s one of the smallest players on the entire field. But he also stands out for his speed and agility. All week, corners couldn’t get a hand on him. Whether in press coverage or off, cornerbacks always seemed to be a couple steps behind even a second after the snap.
But for Detroit Lions wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El, Austin stood out for an entirely different reason.
“You can see he’s one of the smartest in the group,” Randle El said.
Primarily an outside receiver at Memphis, Austin’s stature will probably make him a pure slot receiver at the next level. That’s a transition that will take time, but that’s what this week in Mobile is all about for these players. NFL coaches are going to throw new things at them, and it’s on the players to show they can learn, adjust, and grow.
Austin is doing exactly that.
“He’s picking it up. That’s good to see because he’s going to need to do that,” Randle El said. “He can burn you outside with some speed, but his stature, he’s probably going to have to play inside in this league. But you can see him picking it up and being able to understand the inside, what it takes to understand the coverage of the backers, the nickels buzzing out, not just hook and turn. He’s getting some of that.”
It hasn’t been perfect. During Monday’s practice, Randle El said Austin mis-ran a route based on the coverage, but before the Lions coach could say anything, Austin went up to him and diagnosed his error.
“He came back and said, ‘I should have just stayed outside,’” Randle El said. “I said, ‘Yeah, you should have just stayed outside.’ So he’s getting it. That’s what you want to see. You want to see that progression.”
As for his size, Austin said he doesn’t necessarily view it as a negative. He’s had to get by with his size his entire life and has figured out how to use it to his advantage. It certainly didn’t limit his production at Memphis, where he gained over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons with 20 total touchdowns.
“I’ve been having to deal with that my whole entire life, and at the end of the day, it’s never held me back,” Austin told Cleveland.com. “Obviously, since I’ve been that size my whole life, it’s allowed me to learn new techniques, new ways to use that to my advantage. One of the coaches had told me that this is my superpower, this is my advantage.”
Hmmm... I know a certain general manager who often uses the term “superpower” to describe players.
The Lions will certainly be in the market for wide receivers, as Randle El said he wanted to add at least two in the draft. Austin may not fit the big-bodied receiver that will win every one-on-one jump ball, but his skill set is certainly intriguing if the Lions want to move rookie stud Amon-Ra St. Brown all over the place.