This may be the time of year considered to be the “offseason” for us, the fans, but there is rarely a day off for the 90 men on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster. With full practices in OTAs starting back up in a week, it’s obviously a time to go through the playbook at half-speed and learn. For the rookies to get their first taste of applying what they know and the veterans to kick some of the rust off.
Then there are players who sit inbetween. Not rookies nor veterans but are experiencing their first spring sessions as a Steeler. Two of those players are linebacker L.J. Fort and cornerback Ross Cockrell. Fort talked about how valuable this experience is to Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley.
“When you’re in OTAs, you learn the playbook more and you experience plays. You understand more this is why I’m doing this and why I made that mistake,” he told Varley.
Fort was claimed by the team on August 19th, participating in the final few training camp practices. He spent most of the regular season on the practice squad before earning a late season call-up, debuting in the Divisional loss to the Denver Broncos.
Cockrell wasn’t mentioned in the article but is in the same boat. He didn’t even get to take a rep in training camp, signed by the team on September 5th but wound up playing over 60% of the defensive snaps. He played reasonably well for a player with no time to learn but like Fort, will finally get to slow down and really absorb the playbook for the first time.
It’s why there is a legitimate expectation to see Cockrell take a big step forward in 2016. Once teams hit training camp, it’s pedal to the floor. No chance to breathe, learn, understand the nuances. Those who aren’t on the “moving train,” as Mike Tomlin has called it, are going to fall behind. While I don’t ever see Cockrell as a #1 corner, he has the opportunity to develop into a solid #2 type.
As for Fort, he’ll be scrapping just to make the 53 man roster.as an inside linebacker. His path was muddied by the selections of Travis Feeney and Tyler Matakevich on Day Three of the draft. The Steelers are almost certain to keep only 10 linebackers and if you were to stack the group today, Fort would probably be in 12th – at best – place.