With 12 days left in his 20s and playing for a football team that has employed him less than a calendar year, it might be a stretch to bestow elder statesman status on Jerricho Cotchery.
But with the retirement of Hines Ward, that is the role Cotchery finds himself in as the oldest and most-seasoned member of an otherwise precocious Steelers wide receiving corps that is long on talent but relatively short on NFL experience.
If Antonio Brown, 24, and Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace, both 25, form the "Young Money" trio, does that make Cotchery the old codger at 29?
"He's still young. He's not old ... yet," the smiling Brown said of Cotchery.
"I am the veteran of the group," Cotchery said. "This is going on year nine. I've seen a lot of things in this league. Whatever it is -- game experience, contract situations, anything -- I've seen it all."
All, that is, except a Lombardi Trophy in his hands.
He said that is what brought him here last year after seven seasons with the New York Jets and was his primary motivation in April when he signed a new two-year, $3 million contract with the Steelers.
"I've had 1,000-yard seasons. I've had the numbers. I've had many other things, but I want to win a championship," Cotchery said. "Meeting the head coach and knowing what type of quarterback was here, that's what drew me here last year. ... I just love being here and I just wanted to come back to it."
Cotchery's first season as a Steeler was a strange one. He joined the team near the end of training camp, then sustained a hamstring injury in a preseason game that sidelined him the first three weeks of the regular season.
Upon his return, he saw limited action in the first half of the season, then played in fits and spurts over the second. When used, he had modest production in the fourth and fifth receiving spots, finishing with 237 yards on 16 catches and two touchdowns. He also scored a touchdown in the Steelers' playoff loss at Denver.
Cotchery said his focus this year is to establish a definitive role in the offense as a utility receiver who can line up in any spot.
"I can play every position," Cotchery said. "I want the coaching staff to be comfortable if any guy goes down, whether inside or outside, so they can feel comfortable with me going in and filling in. ... That's how I've always done it -- learn every position on the field and then go from there. When you have guys that are working that way, it makes the offense that much better -- you have more diversity."
He also has embraced the role of older brother to the younger players that was left vacant when Ward retired.
"I'm there for all of the young guys to help them in whatever area they need," Cotchery said. "I told them anything you come to me [with], it's just between you and I, and that's how we'll go about it."
Cotchery's counsel is appreciated by Brown and Sanders.
"He's one of those old vet guys you love to have around," Brown said. "A guy you can go to no matter what the situation and you know he'll give you an honest opinion and good advice. A great teammate."
"He's definitely a leader of the [locker] room ... he's seen a lot, been through a lot. He's doing a great job of filling that void [from] Hines," Sanders said.
But Cotchery isn't here to be a therapist. He is here to play football. And win.
"I feel like I can help the team, and that's what I'm doing right now. I'm growing within the offense, within the program trying to get my role established, so I can help this team win football games," Cotchery said.
"And, yes, I do want to win a Super Bowl. And we all know what type of work has to be done in order for that to get accomplished -- everybody here is willing to do that work."
First Published June 4, 2012 12:00 AM