The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Ross Cockrell
Experience: 2 Years
For a player who was only signed to the roster five days before the season opener, Ross Cockrell certainly wound up playing an integral role for the Steelers in 2015, even if that was not the plan going into the season after adding him.
Had it not been for a couple of injuries, he may not have ever even gotten on the field. It was Cortez Allen who opened the season opener as the sub-package cornerback, playing on the outside, but after he was injured in that game, and never played for the rest of the year, the Steelers obviously had to make adjustments.
The initial plan was likely to try Brandon Boykin, for whom they traded in early August, but a groin injury opening that week of practice also opened the door for Cockrell, who was the healthy body, and thus the recipient of very valuable practice reps. While Boykin did get a small handful of snaps in Week Two, it was Cockrell who played as the sub-package cornerback in that game, taking Allen’s role.
And it’s a role that he never really relinquished all season until the Steelers finally made modifications late in the year, plugging in Boykin into the slot in sub-packages and then rotating Cockrell in on the outside.
To be sure, the second-year player was a far cry from perfect, but he did record two interceptions during the regular season to go along with a forced fumble. He also recovered a fumble, and did so again in the postseason, a key play that led to the game-winning drive in the Wildcard game.
Recording 44 tackles and 11 passes defensed, Cockrell over the course of the regular season logged over 60 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps, which accounts for the bulk of the team’s snaps from the nickel or dime (or quarters) defense over the course of the season.
Because of his 6’0” frame, the Steelers valued his frame for his ability to match up against taller wide receivers over all of the other (healthy) cornerbacks on the roster, with the only other corner over 5’10” being Allen.
The Steelers lined him up over tight ends at times as well, notable in Seattle. He still has a way to go in his development, both in terms of coverage and as a tackler, but 2015 was an encouraging and promising start. He will have to build upon that in 2016 with a full offseason in Pittsburgh.