On the day of the final roster cuts, back during the waning moments of the preseason, the name of Ross Cockrell was not likely on the minds of any followers of the Pittsburgh Steelers—after all, he was not on the roster, nor on any roster for that matter, having been released by the Bills in their first wave of cuts and clearing waivers unclaimed.
But as we sit here now reflecting upon the past several months, it’s quite apparent that he came to be a major player for the Steelers as the course of the season developed, in spite of the fact that he was not even a name being spoken of during the course of the offseason, and at the critical position of cornerback no less.
Cockrell, a now two-year veteran and a former fourth-round draft pick, had only been with the Steelers for a couple of weeks by the time he got his first playing time in the second week of the season, prompted by an injury in the opener suffered by Cortez Allen, and a subsequent groin injury during the week suffered by Brandon Boykin.
Because the Steelers had two cornerbacks sidelined during practice that week, it was Cockrell who got the game reps during practice, and it was Cockrell who was brought in to play in the team’s nickel defense, albeit for about a dozen snaps or so.
Since that time, he had largely become a fixture for a defensive unit that primarily played in its nickel defense with three cornerbacks, and he being one of the three, coming in off the bench to man the left outside spot.
That is a role that he ended up holding on to for most of the season until the Steelers finally began working in Boykin as the slot receiver, which may have been something that they spent all season doing had he not lost that practice time way back when with his groin injury.
Toward the end of the year, he spent his time vying for playing time and splitting reps with Antwon Blake, but by and large, both players ended up getting roughly their fair share, with Boykin seeing more snaps than either of them while manning the slot.
While Cockrell was not exactly a Pro Bowler, he produced for the Steelers two interceptions, including one in the red zone, also forcing a fumble and recovering another during the regular season while defending 11 passes. He also had a critical fumble recovery in the Wildcard game that led to the game-winning drive.
This offseason should be an interesting one for him, considering what a whirlwind this season must have been for him. Surely he did not expect to see almost 700 snaps of playing time during the regular season after playing about a dozen snaps as a rookie.
Now he will have the chance to take his time and really absorb the defense, and to work on his skills after getting some valuable playing experience under his belt, including playoff experience. Any development he is able to make will most certainly be welcome in the secondary.