One week until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.
Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
Life was rough for Ross Cockrell for the second half of 2012. After leading the Blue Devils’ resurgent defense to a very strong start, everything just kind of fell apart all at once. The pass-rush vanished, teams were throwing on Duke seemingly at will, and then Cockrell had to miss the bowl game due to injury. In short, it was not at all what he had in mind for his team’s and his own coming out party on the football field. But with a new season comes another chance for him to prove himself. Given the personnel changes for the already iffy defensive unit though, can he still stand out?
So far, he’s not just on track to do so, but he’s also investing in making his teammates better as well. He recently spoke with the Duke athletic department about how he’s taking an invested interest in the team’s young defensive backs — something that could pay huge dividends down the stretch. He’s also assumed a coaching-type role for the entire team, and most importantly, himself. Being around the program as long as he has, it’s all finally coming together for Cockrell, who can now look at things with better perspective and keep a clear head on the field. It’s that type of focus that usually leads to big seasons, though it also takes plenty of talent as well.
And Cockrell has plenty of that as well. Not strictly a cover corner, he gets involved in run-stopping when calling upon (4 TFLs) and even rushes the passer on occasion. He’s not known for interceptions, but he still managed five of them last season — two returned for TDs. Cockrell broke up passes pretty regularly (13 total in 2012), but now needs to bump that number up if he truly wants to be the leader of this defense. Last year, on top of injuries, the team succumbed to dangerous habits in a high-risk, high-reward game of pursuing turnovers. Obviously it worked out for the first six or eight games, but not so much for the rest. But those are lessons learned. Cockrell knows a lot of the pressure to return to a bowl game falls on him, and it looks like he’s up for the challenge.