There were certainly a few roster decisions that the Pittsburgh Steelers made over the past several days that could be deemed as at least a mild surprise, especially within an offseason in which there were so few opportunities to get on the field and what little information there was available was heavily suppressed.
One of those mild surprises was finding that rookie undrafted free agent cornerback James Pierre out of Florida Atlantic was not listed among the roster cuts. Not that anybody wanted him to be cut or that he should be cut—nobody had seen him play, after all—but that an undrafted rookie cornerback on a team that’s five-deep at the position was able to make enough of an impact in just a few weeks of training camp with no preseason to stick on the 53. So how did that happen?
“Not knowing yet” whether or not he had made the team or would make the team, he told reporters earlier today, “I didn’t have any confidence or any discouragement”, about his prospects. “I was just even-keeled. Just coming in every day, same mindset, same work ethic. I practice one speed, and that’s full speed. Just practice. Practice hard every day”.
That seems like a good approach to making a football roster. It’s pretty good advice generally, as well. It also doesn’t hurt to be 6’2” at the cornerback position. He and second-year cornerback Justin Layne are the only players at the position who are taller than 5’11”, as a matter of wait, even if they are on the bottom of the depth chart.
Ironically, this may have been the easiest path in his football journey coming out of high school. He originally committed to Miami, but decommitted after they fired the head coach who recruited him. He was then denied admission from North Carolina after being offered a scholarship, and subsequently ruled ineligible after being admitted to Syracuse.
That’s how he ended up at Florida Atlantic, a year later than he planned. That’s why, despite declaring for the draft after his junior year, he is a 23-year-old rookie. But the hardest part is out of the way. He has his foot in the door in the NFL. Even if he doesn’t stick to the 53-man roster, the worst-case scenario is likely being re-signed to the practice squad. Otherwise, another team will claim him to be a part of their 53-man roster.
While he didn’t test well athletically, his tape shows a better athlete than the numbers would indicate. Height can make up for a lot of things, as well, for the athlete who knows how to use his body to his advantage.
What does the future hold for Pierre? It’s impossible to say. Chances are he will spend most of his rookie season as a healthy scratch, barring injuries. But he’ll be learning and growing and waiting for his opportunity, in the meantime. He’s defied the odds before. After all, he’s here, being interviewed by reporters.