Cotchery finds Steelers the perfect place to catch on and build a future
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Jerricho Cotchery was tired of being passed over when the New York Jets kept bringing in former Steelers receivers such as Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. At 29, he felt he had no future with the team that had its Super Bowl hopes dashed seven months ago in the AFC championship at Heinz Field.
So, even though he was scheduled to earn nearly $2 million this season with the Jets, Cotchery asked for his release and jumped to the team he always has quietly admired.
And the Steelers are glad to have him. Cotchery brings experience and depth to a position loaded with young talent and gives the Steelers a fifth receiver who is proven and productive in the NFL.
"I'm just here to help the team get to the Super Bowl -- and winning it," Cotchery said. "That's exactly why I came here -- to play for a Super Bowl contender. And the atmosphere. The way they handle their guys over here, it's something I need at this time. It's the best atmosphere for me to thrive in as a player and as a person."
The Steelers have not specified a role for Cotchery, 29, who averaged 51 catches and 645 yards in seven seasons with the Jets. Instead, they told him they would find a spot for him once they see how he fits in their offense.
Even though he played with a herniated disc in his back in 2010 and finished with just 41 catches and 443 yards -- his lowest totals in five years -- the Steelers are glad to have him.
"He knows how to play in those grimy areas of the field -- inside the numbers where you're going to have some hands on you all the time," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "We'll find a role for him as soon as we find out what he does best."
Cotchery visited the Steelers a week ago and stayed for two days, but left without signing a contract. At the time, the Steelers felt as though Cotchery was looking for a better situation where he might be a third receiver. But, after visiting with the Baltimore Ravens, Cotchery changed his mind and signed a one-year contract with the Steelers.
"After my visit here, I felt like this is the place for me, this is the type of atmosphere I need to be in," Cotchery said. "Business-wise, you still have to take the visit; that was the best thing to do. But, all along, I felt like this was the place for me.
"I was talking to Ryan [Clark] earlier and I was talking how I used to watch interviews and hear their guys say, 'We do things a certain way here,' and I always wondered what they were talking about. When I came here on my visit, I got it. It's a great atmosphere. Everyone is tight, everyone is close here. It's a great atmosphere to be in, a great atmosphere to work in."
The Steelers were looking for a veteran receiver who could play the slot -- a role filled last season by Antwaan Randle El, who was released. Cotchery, who has played all seven NFL seasons with the Jets, was a perfect fit because he is bigger (6 feet, 203 pounds) and scrappier than Randle El.
Cotchery had 358 catches, 4,514 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career with the Jets. His best season was 2007 when he started 15 games and had 82 catches for 1,130 yards and two touchdowns.
"Now we have depth at the wide receiver position," said injured wideout Emmanuel Sanders (foot), who hasn't practiced in nearly two weeks. "And coach [Scottie] Montgomery said it keeps the wide-receiver room hot. That's great. You always want that competition in the room."
"He's a great wideout," veteran Hines Ward said. "He's been making plays since he's been in the league.
"We really don't have a lot of experience other than me and Mike [Wallace]. We're just adding that extra veteran guy to be there in case something happens. If he gets an opportunity in the three- or four-wide sets, he definitely adds strength to the wide receiver corps."
Cotchery, a fourth-round draft choice in 2004, still had two years remaining on a contract with the Jets that was to pay him $1.8 million in 2011. But he asked for -- and was granted -- his release because he said he didn't feel as though he was a big part of their future plans.
When the Jets re-signed Santonio Holmes and added former Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress and veteran Derrick Mason after the lockout, he said he thought it was time to move on.
"It was time for a change, time for a change of scenery for myself and the organization, as well," Cotchery said. "It was time to move on. Future-wise, I didn't really see myself fitting in. People on the outside looking in might say, 'Well, you've been there that long, you're part of the future,' but I didn't really see it that way. I think it was beneficial for both sides to move on."
Cotchery's numbers declined last season because of his back injury -- he also led the Jets with eight dropped passes, according to Stats Inc. -- but he had surgery in February to correct the problem.
Nonetheless, in the AFC championship at Heinz Field in January, Cotchery had five catches for 33 yards and a 4-yard touchdown against the Steelers.
"They need a veteran guy to come in and make some plays, that's about it," Cotchery said. "Nothing is given to you here. You have to come in and work your tail off and earn your stripes."
First Published August 15, 2011 12:00 am