No matter how much two coaches might be alike, it goes without saying that changing the guard from one to the other will inevitably bring about some degree of changes, significant or otherwise. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler was Dick LeBeau’s linebackers coach for about a decade and knew the defense as well as anybody, but when he took over the top defensive role last year, we saw some changes.
Of particular note was the fact that the Steelers relied far more heavily on their sub-package defensive looks, utilizing them over a heavy front seven more than 70 percent of the time a year ago. The defensive line drew more one-gap assignments and a greater burden in the passing game. The secondary’s coverages were more multiple and versatile.
And according to Jacob Klinger, another focus of this season’s defense will be to see the Steelers’ cornerbacks “on the line of scrimmage more often this season”, as Ross Cockrell told him, which certainly sounds like they intend to play more press coverage or man coverage than they have in the past.
Also telling Klinger that he had received the majority of the first-team reps during spring drills—a fact not altogether unsurprising, of course, given the general lack of experience from the rest of the roster—the third-year cornerback, with good size and supposedly added bulk during this offseason, will, as it appears, be a part of that greater emphasis of pressing at the line of scrimmage, or at least lining up close to the line of scrimmage, to be as safe and literal as possible from the pull quote.
If that is indeed the case, that the Steelers have the intention of playing more press coverage, and that Ross Cockrell will be a part of it, then first-year wide receiver Issac Blakeney, a former teammate of his at Duke, has as good an explanation as anybody.
He recently told former Steelers Depot and current Steel City Insider writer Jon Ledyard that Cockrell is a “very smart guy”, a reputation that preceded him to Pittsburgh. Describing him as “one of those guys who…can out-think you”, Blakeney noted that Cockrell “watches a lot of film, breaks down a lot of things and he studies us.
“Based on your alignment and certain moves”, he said, “he’s gonna jump you, so you always have to be two steps ahead and know that he’s smart and that you can’t be sloppy with your technique. You gotta drop, you gotta snap your routes, you gotta sell things, do all the little stuff or he’s gonna jump all over you”.
Cockrell showed that he has that sort of capability after the snap last season early in his playing time, in the fourth game of the season, when he recorded his first career interception simply by being where he was supposed to be in coverage and reading the offense properly. Now he may have the opportunity to put that new muscle to good use up against wide receiver at the line of scrimmage.