Nearly a year ago, the Buffalo Bills dumped Ross Cockrell on the cutdown to 75 man rosters. Now, Cockrell is poised to be an opening day starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But as Mike Tomlin repeated throughout this morning’s interview, past resume is irrelevant. And Cockrell is proof of that.
“I don’t care about what means you got here,” he told reporters today. “We liked him when he came out of Duke. He was a guy we thought had the potential to be a good football player. He was available. He came in, he worked hard.”
Despite being signed by the team late in the process, roughly a month into the regular season, Cockrell earned a significant role in the Steelers’ nickel defense as an outside cornerback. He officially started seven games, recording 43 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. He also recovered the fumble in the Wild Card game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Finally getting the chance to go through an offseason and preseason with the Steelers, Tomlin is encouraged by his progress.
“Since last season, he’s done nothing but continue to move upward and onward from that. He’s good above the neck, he’s worked hard in terms of conditioning his body, improving his body, getting ready to absorb the number of snaps he potentially could absorb.”
Tomlin went on to reference what Cockrell did last year, playing over 700 snaps, something even the head coach admitted probably surprised the second year cornerback.
His role will only expand with another year under his belt. He seems entrenched as the left cornerback in base, and probably most snaps there in sub-packages, too. As the base corner, a role he didn’t serve until late in the season, he’ll have to be a more physical presence against the run. But in coverage, and IQ, as Tomlin alluded to, Cockrell has been a great find by the Steelers’ front office, scouts and pro personnal department alike.
Though the team has begun to invest heavily in the secondary, sometimes, the castaway you reeled in can prove to be just as valuable.