Cotchery ready when the Steelers need him

Jerricho Cotchery appears to have hit his stride just in time, as the Steelers prepare for their regular-season finale in Cleveland.
Jerricho Cotchery appears to have hit his stride just in time, as the Steelers prepare for their regular-season finale in Cleveland.
Ralph N. Paulk
| Monday, Dec. 26, 2011

Jerricho Cotchery does a lot of things well, but exercising patience isn't among them.

The veteran wide receiver spent the first half of this season waiting and watching from the sidelines. A tender hamstring limited his playing time, thus disrupting his transition into an evolving Steelers offense.

It's not what Cotchery imagined when he signed a free-agent deal with the Steelers only days after Plaxico Burress opted to return to New York instead of Pittsburgh. Realistically, Cotchery accepted the role of trotter opposite the Steelers' thoroughbreds — Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

Cotchery appears to have hit his stride just in time as the Steelers (11-4) prepare for their regular-season finale in Cleveland on Sunday - a must-win game to keep their AFC North title hopes alive.

"Initially, I saw all the weapons here which made me think a little bit," Cotchery said. "Once I came for my visit, I realized it's a special place.

"I looked in the mirror and asked, 'What do I see?' I looked like a Steeler. I felt like this was the place to be."

Cotchery envisioned himself as someone quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could lean on, particularly in the red zone. After all, that's where he excelled during his seven-year tenure with the New York Jets. He was a magician in cleats, snaring almost everything within or out of his reach.

"I had the hamstring injury early in the season, so no one was able to see me in action," Cotchery said. "The only time they saw me was in preseason.

"I feel like over course of time, the staff and everybody sees what I have to offer. I had to come in and do my part."

Taking advantage of an injury to Sanders, Cotchery worked himself into the rotation.

He showed his effectiveness last Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers, when he led the Steelers with five catches for 93 yards. However, he played sparingly Saturday and was held without a catch in the team's 27-0 victory against the St. Louis Rams in the home regular-season finale.

"I knew it was going to be tough getting some playing time," Cotchery said. "I just put it aside because my vision of things changed because I see how they build championship teams here. We have a lot of quality guys who can make plays. So, there's no reason to panic when someone gets injured."

Cotchery was on the field for 58 snaps against the 49ers, compared to nine for Hines Ward. Those aren't inconsequential numbers, considering his 93 receiving yards against San Francisco were only 22 shy of his season total.

Cotchery didn't see as much action against the Rams, in part, because Ward was more involved in the offense in what could have been his final home game with the Steelers. Ward finished with four catches to leave him five shy of becoming of the eighth receiver in NFL history to record 1,000 receptions.

"It's not hard for a veteran guy to come in and pick up on the system. All the systems are similar in lot of ways. It's the terminology that's different," Ward said. "The quarterback believes in him. Right now, he's getting his attempts. Basically, it comes down to him making plays, and that's what he's been doing."

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