As it turns out, Ross Cockrell’s misfortune was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ gain. The second-year cornerback spent most of his training camp time with the Buffalo Bills nursing a knee injury. He was inactive for the team’s first three preseason games before his release on the 31st of last month in the first wave of roster cutdowns.
Cockrell managed to clear waivers that time, but when the Steelers had to get down to 53 players yesterday, they decided to cut two of their own in order to sign the second-year player as their sixth cornerback.
Losing out to Cockrell was B.W. Webb and Kevin Fogg, with the latter a strong candidate to land on the practice squad. Fogg is a first-year former undrafted rookie, while Webb was a fourth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2013.
The Steelers claimed Webb off waivers around this time of year in 2014, much as they did with Antwon Blake the year before. And like Blake, Webb was unable to see much time on defense in part due to the fact that he was just being introduced to the defensive system.
While he was not added via waivers, Cockrell becomes the third cornerback in three consecutive seasons to be added to the roster just prior to the start of the regular season, and it seems unlikely that he will get much playing time either. As a rookie, in fact, he only played 11 snaps on defense after the Bills selected him with their fourth-round pick.
Cockrell was only active for seven games during his rookie season, and one must wonder whether or not he will spend much time on the active list with the Steelers this year, at least early on. A core special teams player would not be inactive for nine games.
The immediate beneficiary of the Cockrell addition might be rookie cornerback Doran Grant, who figured to be an early season lock to spend his days on the inactive list as the sixth cornerback.
To his advantage, Grant has a special teams background in college, and he played reasonably well in the third phase of the game during the preseason, particularly as a gunner. If Cockrell is inactive, then it would figure that Grant is the prime candidate to get his helmet.
But the Steelers would not have signed Cockrell, thereby releasing two other cornerbacks in whom they saw potential, had they not liked him. Tomlin mentioned that they were impressed by his Pro Day workout prior to the draft last year. The team was interested in drafting him at around the same spot in the draft that he was taken.
Webb’s story was similar. The team was interested in him in the 2013 draft, and took the opportunity to acquire him a year later when it presented itself. Now Webb is the victim of Cockrell’s potential.
At 6’0” and 190 pounds, he is now the second-tallest cornerback on the team behind Cortez Allen. Whether or not he gets an opportunity to use that height to his advantage on defense—or even special teams—this season remains to be seen.