With spring drills officially over, I think we all understand that we’re all in for a long haul, six weeks in total, between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp. You know the drill. There’s little new information coming out during this period, so it serves as the perfect time both to look back, and to look ahead.
We’re going to be focusing mostly on the latter as we prepare—ever so patiently, of course—for training camp. The Pittsburgh Steelers right now have a fairly young roster with inexperienced players that they are hoping to take on a bigger role. The problem is that in many cases, they are still waiting on those players to show them something, and that is the focus of that series—as well as the occasional veteran with lingering questions.
Show me something, Ross Cockrell.
Until there is reason to believe otherwise, I will be working under the assumption that third-year cornerback Ross Cockrell is entering the 2016 as the presumptive starting left cornerback, in both the 3-4 and nickel defense, and is set to log all of the snaps befitting a starting defensive player, in contrast to his limited snaps last season.
With that in mind, jumping from the 60 percent of total team snaps that he logged last season, there is a certain level of progress that must be seen from Cockrell during his first full season with the Steelers in order to justify his assuming that amount of playing time.
Of course, there is the fact that he may not have a choice but to log all that time given the lack of experience behind him and the fact that the two young, high-pedigreed prospects behind him may require further grooming before they are ready to contribute. That simply means, however, that it is all the more important that he show positive signs forward.
All things considered, it would be unfair to say anything shy of claiming that Cockrell performed adequately, his playing time beginning just two weeks after the team had acquired him, in a relatively unfamiliar system. He hardly had any playing time in his rookie season the year before, either.
The Duke product showed if nothing else the ability to be a quick learner, and he was even able to produce a turnover or two simply by virtue of his understanding of his assignments and where he needed to be.
But he in particularly needs to improve his physicality, both in the running game and in the passing game, especially as it applies to going up against larger wide receivers and tight ends who are able to fairly easily outbox him at the line of scrimmage and in the end zone.
Cockrell is a player who appears to have the skill and intelligence to be a capable starter, and he did manage to produce some turnovers last year, but he is still working on his way to being at the level befitting a championship defender.