Talk is cheap. I’m sure if you asked Kevin Colbert before the draft his confidence level in Vince Williams and Ross Cockrell, you would’ve gotten the cliche “yes.”
It’s actions, not words, that tell the story. With the 2017 draft over, it’s not cliche or coachspeak. It’s the truth. The decisions they made speak volumes about their opinion of those two, Williams and Cockrell.
The inside linebacker depth chart is unchanged after the team’s eight picks. Ryan Shazier and Williams the starters, Tyler Matakevich the backup. There’s a separate thought to be made about that and their confidence in Matakevich but similar applies to Williams. Colbert was specifically asked about the position and Williams in the post-draft presser.
“If you go back to the previous free agency period, we knew there was a chance Lawrence would leave,” Colbert told the media. “And that’s why we re-signed Vince Williams to an extension. We’re very confident in Vince. Vince has started games for us. We’re confident in that…Vince is fine.”
Colbert threw in some flowery language about taking an inside linebacker if someone made sense and creating a feeling of competition. Blah blah blah. It’s all about actions and the Steelers stood firm.
It’s practically guaranteed Williams will enter as the Week One starter. And he’s earned it, showing well in relief for Shazier and playing with a level of energy and intensity that few on this roster match. The Steelers have stuck to the plan they put in when they signed Williams in August of 2016. Let Timmons walk in free agency and supplant him with Williams, a similar skillset for a significantly cheaper price.
Pittsburgh added a pair of corners but the team focused on upgrading the nickel before anything on the outside. Cam Sutton in the third, already too much of a wait at corner for some people, who will likely kick inside at the NFL. Colbert and company double-dipped with Brian Allen in the 5th, who is definitely an outside corner, but a developmental one who is unlikely to push Cockrell in 2017.
That isn’t to say Cockrell is an elite guy and ideally, he becomes the #2 opposite Artie Burns. But like Ike Taylor or William Gay, Cockrell is going through the “fans hate him phase” of his career. He’s continued to grow, ever since being thrown into the fire coming over from Buffalo, and is now in the prime of his career. About to turn 26, completely comfortable in the system, and their best cornerback last year.
Give Colbert a lot of credit, even if you’re steaming after the way the draft turned out. Williams was a 6th rounder turned starter and the Steelers took the chance on Cockrell after the Buffalo Bills dumped him quicker than the shelf-life of a CBS sitcom (goodbye Limitless).
That’s two starters off the “scrap heap” and a pair of guys who have proven themselves on the field. And let the team go in different directions.