Pittsburgh took its first step towards shoring up its secondary in a move that saw the Steelers sign Ross Cockrell to a one year contract. Cornerback Ross Cockrell was one of the Steelers exclusive rights free agents, meaning he couldn’t negotiate with any other team, but the Steelers still needed to make him an offer.
If the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers had one unquestionable weakness, it was in their secondary. For starters, the 2015 Steelers fielded an accidental secondary, as no one, save for Mike Mitchell, played in the role envisioned for him when he was acquired.
- Beyond that, the secondary floundered when the Cameron Heywards, Stephon Tuitts, and James Harrisons couldn’t pressure the passer.
That might seem like a tautology but the Steelers secondaries from 2011-2013 were far from dominant, but played better without much of a pass rush to speak of. While Ross Cockrell might not be close to being a “shutdown corner,” bringing him back to Pittsburgh is a smart move.
Ross Cockrell 2015 Retrospective
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin turned a lot of heads when the Steelers claimed Ross Cockrell off of waivers after the first wave of mandatory cuts. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo saw the move as sufficiently puzzling enough to question whether the Steelers coaches and scouting teams were not on the same page, much as they had been over offensive line in general and Max Starks in particular in 2007 and 2008.
- While not speaking directly to Ray Fittipaldo’s point, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola boosted the level of debate on the subject.
Responding to a reader’s question, Labriola cited legendary Steelers scout Bill Nunn, who instructed younger scouts not to put too much faith into the performance of defensive backs on other teams, because you had no way of knowing what those DB’s had been instructed to do.
- Enter Ross Cockrell, the 2014 4th rounder that Rex Ryan and company couldn’t wait to get rid of.
As a wavier wire pickups go, Ross Cockrell’s 2015 season alone makes him a success. Per the Steelers rendering, Cockrell started 7 games and suited up for 15, the only game he missed was the season opener at New England. While Ross Cockrell’s 2015 performance doesn’t project him as another Rod Woodson or Mel Blount, he did give the Steelers secondary something it sorely needed – turnovers.
- In the Steelers first loss to the Ravens, Cockrell picked off a pass and recovered a fumble.
The fumble recover shows some particularly good concentration and execution (available as of 1/23/16 — watch it now before Roger Goodell’s You Tube police have it taken down):
- In the Steelers overtime victory over Oakland, the Raiders had made it deep into the Steelers Red Zone, when Cockrell intercepted another pass and returned it 25 yards.
- Cockrell also recovered a fumble in the Steelers loss to the Seahawks
And without question, Cockrell’s most important play of the year came in the Steelers playoff win over the Bengals. It took Jarvis Jones to stop Jeremy Hill, Ryan Shazier to strip the ball and Ross Cockrell to recover it.
The Steelers secondary needs help. Ross Cockrell might not be “The Answer” to the Steelers defensive backfield woes, but he is certainly part of the equation.