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Gorman: Steelers WR Canaan Severin finally gets to play

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, 7:51 p.m.
Steelers receiver Canaan Severin looks the ball in during practice , Aug.1, 2017 at St. Vincent College.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Canaan Severin looks the ball in during practice , Aug.1, 2017 at St. Vincent College.

Canaan Severin had spent a season with the Steelers on injured reserve, so the first-year wide receiver wanted to make a strong impression.

Severin sprinted out fast in the first leg of the conditioning test last month. Suddenly, he was having trouble breathing and had to be carted off Chuck Noll Field.

The Steelers announced Severin had failed the conditioning test and was being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to start training camp.

“One moment, I'm leading and 10 yards out in front of everyone. The next rep, I'm 10 yards behind everyone,” Severin said. “Coach T (Mike Tomlin) was like, ‘That wasn't natural. We want to put you on PUP as a precaution because this is your body. We're talking life right here.' It was almost like a shocking experience.”

Severin is a carrier of the sickle-cell trait and suffered from oxygen deprivation. It affected him at Virginia, but only in games at high altitude.

Severin knew he couldn't afford to miss much time, especially when he was way down the Steelers depth chart and with Martavis Bryant (suspension) and Sammie Coates (knee) getting ready to return.

“In my mind, we've got one of the best receiving corps in the league,” Severin said. “When that happened, it felt like, Dang, now I'm behind the 8-ball. But with the strength of Coach T and Kevin Colbert, they were like, ‘Just keep doing your thing, stay healthy, be available.' This is football. There's a 100 percent guarantee that people will get hurt, so your opportunities will come.”

Severin has starred in practices this week and hopes to make a more lasting impression when the Steelers open their preseason against the New York Giants at 7 p.m. Friday at MetLife Stadium.

You might think this is a meaningless game, given that Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown won't even dress. For players on the fringe like Severin, however, it means the world.

“It's a great opportunity to be back, after spending the season on IR last year,” Severin said. “I'm up for this game, to give my all and showcase my talents a little bit. I'm pumped up.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound receiver signed with the Steelers last year as an undrafted free agent, only to dislocate his left shoulder in the first week of camp. Severin suffered a torn labrum, which forced him to sit out the season.

Severin took Tomlin's advice: Don't be oblivious. With the help of receivers coaches Richard Mann and Danny Rooney, Severin paid attention in meetings and learned the playbook, getting the mental repetitions that he couldn't take on the field.

“I didn't feel like a rookie at all when I came to camp because I was around the whole time,” Severin said. “I've shown that I know what I'm going to do. I'm not going to have too many MEs — too many mental errors — or too many busts on plays.

“I feel like I'm an accountable receiver. I know where I'm going to be. I can make tough catches, and I'm invested in the run game.”

When Severin failed his conditioning run, he was worried the Steelers would sever ties.

“That could have been — boom! — easy for them to do,” Severin said, snapping his fingers. “I think it shows it's very key to how you operate. People are always watching, based on how you move, not only on the field but off the field, as well.”

Veteran receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey urged Severin to keep his head up, reminding that the team believes in him or they wouldn't have brought him back from the shoulder injury.

“I value his intelligence. He's a smart kid,” Heyward-Bey said. “He's out there working hard every day. He takes coaching really well. That's what you want out of a young player like that.”

Those are traits Tomlin also saw in Severin, along with his willingness and ability to play a role on special-teams units such as the punt, punt return and kickoff return teams.

“He's a diligent and detailed worker,” Tomlin said. “He's a big-bodied guy and plays that way. ... Those are some of the reasons we're interested in getting an extended look at him.”

An extended look for which Severin is thankful, an opportunity for which he waited a year to finally get.

“All I can do,” Severin said, “is show what I can do.”

Maybe Severin can take the Steelers' breath away when the long shot finally gets his long-awaited shot.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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