Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell had a career game Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens that included him intercepting one pass and recovering a Joe Flacco fumble caused by defensive end Cameron Heyward. So, will Cockrell be the Steelers third cornerback moving forward?
“As we sit here today, but obviously, we got some preparation time,” said head coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday. “We’ve got to evaluate Cortez [Allen], his practice performance and availability like I said at the initial outset of the press conference.”
Cockrell, who the Steelers signed right before the start of the regular season after he was waived by the Buffalo Bills, has been a pleasant surprise so far and especially since he hasn’t had much time to learn the defense.
Tomlin was asked Tuesday if Cockrell is a perfect example of a player who is merely taking advantage of an opportunity that was provided by starting cornerback Cortez Allen going down injured.
“I don’t know if it is a perfect example, I just believe it’s the most current example,” said Tomlin. “I believe it’s happening around us all the time, every year. He’s just the flavor of the month in that regard right now, but we watched Antwon Blake do that a year ago and we don’t bat an eye at his defensive participation these days.
“I think that’s what this game and this league is about. It’s a fine line between being a backup and a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Often times it’s preparation and opportunity, and he’s [Cockrell] prepared and taking advantage of an opportunity and I look forward to watching him do that.”
It will be interesting to see the course of action that Tomlin and the coaching staff takes once Allen is fully recovered from his latest knee problem that has forced him to sit out the Steelers last three games. Judging by his Tuesday comments, Tomlin is comfortable with the play of starting cornerback Antwon Blake, even though he still has issues in coverage at times in addition to missing key tackles during seemingly important parts of games.
While Cockrell did make two huge plays Thursday night, he did give up a third quarter touchdown to virtually unknown Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken. Cockrell talked about that play after the game.
“I keep going back to the touchdown I gave up. I just wish that never happened,” said Cockrell, who has played 117 defensive snaps so far this season. “I got to get better and continue to try to improve for my team.”
Cockrell also admitted were he specifically failed in his coverage on Aiken.
“I just got to get my hands on him and play all the way through the ball,” he said. “So that’s what I’ll be focused on for the rest of the season. I’m just going to try to finish plays as best I can.”
Cockrell might very well be the flavor of the month right now, but unless his flavor starts souring, the Steelers should stick with him even when Allen is ready to get back on the field. If anything, Tomlin should reexamine Blake’s flavor and start batting an eye or two at his weekly performances. If need be, Cockrell can start in Blake’s place and Allen can come off the bench in sub package personnel groupings once healthy.
As for reserve cornerback Brandon Boykin, who has yet to play 15 defensive snaps so far this season after being acquired via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles during training camp, he might not have his flavor tested much the rest of the season.