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Steelers used to plugging new faces into roster before opener

| Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, 10:00 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers linebackers James Harrison and Ryan Shazier play against the Bills on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
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The Panthers' Jordan Todman runs the ball during a preseason game against the Dolphins on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Charlotte, N.C.

Three days after the Steelers signed Ross Cockrell, Cortez Allen was speaking highly of his new teammate just after spending his third practice with the new cornerback Tuesday.

“He fits in,” Allen said.

The use of a pronoun was intentional.

“I can't even remember his name right now,” Allen admitted, sheepishly, before it came to him.

“Ross! I'm still getting to learn about Ross.”

The following day, Cockrell, running back Jordan Todman and defensive end Caushaud Lyons all were to travel with the Steelers to New England for the season-opening game against the New England Patriots. Although it's possible — perhaps likely — none will be in uniform Thursday, that hasn't made this week any less of a whirlwind for the three newest Steelers on the 53-man roster.

Cockrell signed five days before the regular-season opener; Todman and Lyons four days before.

“I've definitely got to study a lot,” said Cockrell, cut last week by the Bills' new coaching staff a year after he was a fourth-round pick. “I missed all of camp, so I'm playing a lot of catch-up. But they gave me an opportunity, and I'm here to seize it.”

The nature of their acquisitions stacks the odds against players such as Cockrell, Todman and Lyons to make an impact. After all, players signed the week before the season opener, by definition, were thought of as not good enough by a former employer. Also, the players are not assimilated into their new team's schemes, terminology or culture.

But each of the past two years, the Steelers claimed a cornerback just before the season who had been cut by another team. Both times, those players stuck and even made an impact.

Last season, the Steelers claimed cornerback B.W. Webb a day after he was released by the Cowboys. Webb stuck all season and appeared in 11 games.

In 2013, the Steelers claimed cornerback Antwon Blake from the Jaguars on Sept. 2. Blake played 14 games on special teams that year and became a regular on defense last season.

“Any chance you get, you want to take advantage of it,” Cockrell said. “It doesn't really matter if it's on defense, on special teams. I'm just here to help.”

With no players other than No. 3 quarterback Landry Jones on the injury report this week, it's possible Cockrell, Todman and Lyons will be inactive Thursday for the Steelers. That's standard procedure in the NFL, but the Steelers have plenty of recent examples of guys who were signed to plug-and-play.

Webb played in the opener nine days after being claimed in 2013, and center Fernando Velasco actually started seven days after signing Sept. 9 of that season.

Linebacker James Harrison (five days after Sept. 23, 2014, signing) and tackle Max Starks (four days after Oct. 5, 2011 signing) each played significant roles less than a week after joining the Steelers — but those instances come with an asterisk because Harrison and Starks had played for the team for several past seasons.

“Timing is everything,” said Todman, who could be used because of a dearth of running back experience on the roster. “So I feel like three days would be enough time to showcase to (coaches) and gain their trust.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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