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Young Steelers CBs must get through Ross Cockrell -- yes, Ross Cockrell

PITTSBURGH -- Armed with high draft picks Artie Burns and Senquez Golson, the Pittsburgh Steelers can explore the possibilities of their cornerback group with veteran William Gay as a staple.

The forgotten man in those discussions, at least publicly, is Ross Cockrell.

The Steelers haven’t forgotten. Cockrell certainly hasn’t forgotten. He’s still eager to repay the Steelers for picking him up last summer after the Buffalo Bills cut him.

Cockrell started seven games last year, and he wants at least 16 more.

“I’m just trying to prove to them that I can be the starter,” Cockrell said. “I’m competing every day, working and making plays on the ball.”

The Steelers didn’t draft Burns No. 25 overall to bury him on the bench. And they are especially eager to pull former second-round pick Golson out of the training room after he missed his rookie year with a torn labrum.

But the team also values experience and dependability, which means Cockrell, who has good size on the outside at 6-foot-0, could get the nod early in the season. Fourth-rounder Doran Grant can fight for snaps, too.

But the Steelers hope Cockrell makes a jump, too. He was serviceable last year with 44 tackles and two interceptions, though he admits his patience and footwork at the line of scrimmage must improve.

Cockrell, a fourth-round pick, was devastated when the Bills cut him after one season, but the NFL is largely about fit, and the Steelers needed corner help any way they could get it. They signed Cockrell, then re-signed him as an exclusive rights free agent shortly after the season ended.

“(Coach Mike Tomlin) definitely took a leap of faith when he took me on,” Cockrell said. “When you get released, you kind of go numb and can’t believe it’s happening. I took a night, kind of wallowed in it a bit. After that, I got excited, came out and just competed as hard as possible.”

Cockrell knows the young draft picks are looking to earn prominent roles in the defense, and he agrees the competition will make everyone better.

But Cockrell is the incumbent.

Not that that means much to him.

“You’ve got to prove yourself all over again,” Cockrell said. “I’m not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or any of those guys. I’ve got to compete to the best of my ability and let the football play where it is.”