A lot of the focus on the advancement of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense for this upcoming season has been surrounding the team’s three rookie starters on that side of the ball a year ago. Cornerback Artie Burns, safety Sean Davis, and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave were all contributing in big ways as starters by the time the regular season was over.
The theory goes that the biggest jump for the majority of players comes between their first and second seasons, so it would stand to reason that there is rightfully a lot of attention being paid to these critical second-year players, who have already managed to earn starting roles.
But there are other young pieces on the defense who are continuing to develop, and that includes cornerback Ross Cockrell, who is entering his fourth season in the league, the third with the Steelers, and the second as a full-time starter.
Cockrell, in fact, logged more snaps than anybody on defense last season, and was one of only two players who saw more than 1000 snaps on the year, so it would certainly be fair to say that he accrued a lot of experience. He saw less than 700 snaps as a rotating nickel cornerback in 2015.
Because of his newfound experience, the former Duke defensive backs is raising the bar for himself this upcoming season. He talked about how he believes he will benefit from what he learned last season in 2017 during a sit-down interview with Missi Matthews on the team’s website.
“I think sometimes for me as a new player, as a new starter, there may have been situations that I wasn’t all the way there”, he recalled of his experience las season. For a young player who doesn’t have a lot of reps under his belt, it would be natural to be exposed to a variety of looks by offenses that he wasn’t familiar with before.
“Now that I’ve been in some of those situations and have that experience, I can make sure that I’m fully aware and that if there’s a play happening in front of me, I not only break up the play, but maybe I intercept the play”, he added.
He knows that it’s important to pick off the pass this year after failing to do so a year ago, though he did record 14 pass deflections. He believes that he will be able to play a step quicker this year because of his experiences last year, which will help him get to the play quicker and have opportunities to get the ball.
Still, he knew what his role was last year, and it hasn’t changed, in his eyes. “My role was to be the guy who made stops”, he told Matthews. “I wanted to be the guy who the team could rely on, that if there was a one-on-one matchup or if there was something that happened down the field, they knew I was going to make the play more times than I wouldn’t”.