It was right around this time last season, in the third game of the season, in which third-year cornerback Ross Cockrell really began contributing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. At that point, he had only been on the roster for just a few weeks after the team signed him on the final cut day prior to the start of the regular season, and, due to injury, they thrust him into some nickel work in Week Two.
Fast forward a year later, and Cockrell, the Steelers’ starting left outside cornerback, spent most of his afternoon in Week Two of 2016 shadowing Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and helping to hold him to just two receptions on the day for 40 yards. The cornerback’s day included two passes defensed, including one directly battling to break up a pass that Green would have caught.
This is simply another one of those ‘what a difference a year makes’ types of stories, and it one that Cockrell sat down to talk about recently with Missi Matthews for the team’s website in advance of today’s game against the Eagles.
Matthews asked him about how different his experience has been from one season to the next, trying on the fly not only to learn a new defense, but a new group of teammates. Having had the opportunity to spend a full year in the organization since, his answer was, of course, that “it’s totally different”.
“Last year, when I got here, it was pretty much plug-and-play. I didn’t really have a chance to get to know my teammates on or off the field. We were in the middle of the season and we just kept on rolling towards our goal”.
That is, of course, one of the great things about competitive sports, especially for those who find themselves in Cockrell’s shoes, suddenly in new surroundings. No matter where you find yourself, you will inevitably be surrounded by like-minded individuals striving for the same things: to win games, and to earn a ring at the end of the season.
“This year”, he said, “I’ve had the whole OTAs. I’ve had spring training. I’ve had minicamp. I’ve had training camp. So it’s been like night and day from last season to this season”. By the time Cockrell joined the team, they were already in regular-season mode, during which the middle of the week is focused on preparing for an opponent, rather than building up a player.
The former Duke product also talked about where he fits in with the team now from a football perspective, telling Matthews, “my role in the defense is to be kind of that disruptor, that guy that will get up at the line of scrimmage, put some hands on guys, get his hands on a lot of footballs, and try to create big plays”.
A season ago, Cockrell recorded two interceptions, forced a fumble, and recovered another, adding 11 passes defensed in the process. He added a huge fumble recovery in the playoffs as well. That is one way to endear yourself to your new teammates. A year later, he has clearly fit in.