PITTSBURGH -- He's the son of two Ivy Leaguers and he himself went to Duke.
Yep, Ross Cockrell's a pretty smart guy.
But smarts have only taken him so far. In his brief career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cockrell has also made plays.
"Flavor of the month," Mike Tomlin called him the other day.
And why not?
Cockrell is young, bright, good-looking, smart, he's making plays and he's a fresh face in the locker room.
The son of two Columbia University graduates, both engineers, Cockrell was born in Detroit and raised in Charlotte as a Miami Dolphins fan because his father, a wide receiver at Columbia in the early 1980s, was a fan of Dan Marino.
Cockrell played high school ball in Charlotte and caught 29 passes for 459 yards and 11 touchdowns and led the Charlotte Latin Hawks to the state championship game as a senior. But he received only one scholarship offer, so he took it and went to Duke.
"I thought I had a pretty good high school career," Cockrell said of the sparse interest. "I went to a smaller school, and I was a small kid. I was really small. I was about this height but I was just really skinny, just nothing but skin and bones."
The skinny six-footer stepped into the Duke lineup as a redshirt freshman, and his big game that year -- and the one that ties Cockrell's emergence with the Steelers to Monday night's game in San Diego -- occurred during the biggest game of Dontrelle Inman's college career.
Who? "Dontrelle Inman? Oh, the guy from UVA?" Cockrell said.
Yep. Inman made a career-high 10 receptions for 239 yards and a touchdown in that 2010 game for Virginia. But Cockrell intercepted two passes and Duke won, 55-48.
Cockrell will likely renew acquaintances Monday night with Inman, who now plays for the San Diego Chargers.
"Yeah. he's number 15. Yeah, I know who he is," Cockrell said. "I didn't realize he was the one who killed us back then. I do remember somebody having a monster game."
That was the last Cockrell saw of Inman, who spent 2011 on the Jacksonville practice squad, then two years in the CFL, and then last season with the Chargers. He caught 12 passes for 158 yards last season, but didn't make a big, meaningful play until last week against the Cleveland Browns.
Inman -- playing opposite Keenan Allen with Malcom Floyd (concussion), Stevie Johnson (hamstring) and Jacoby Jones (ankle) injured -- took a short pass 68 yards to the Cleveland 1 to set up a touchdown in a tight game the Chargers eventually won.
"I assume they're all going to be out there," Cockrell said of the other injured receivers. "You have to."
And assume that Cockrell will be the No. 3 cornerback again after leaping over Brandon Boykin on the depth chart soon after the Steelers claimed Cockrell off the waiver wire just before the start of the season.
It wasn't so much that Cockrell beat Boykin for the job; it's more that Boykin is a slot corner and the Steelers prefer William Gay in the slot.
When a third wide receiver enters the game, the Steelers send in Cockrell to play opposite Antwon Blake as Gay moves inside. Boykin remains the odd man out.
"The team has been great and kind of rallying around me and helped me to learn the defense as fast as I can," Cockrell said. "And I just tried to make plays."
He made two of them Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens. He was part of a disguised man-to-man look that fooled Flacco. Cockrell came from seemingly out of nowhere to intercept the pass intended for Steve Smith. On the first play of the second half, Cockrell made another play by toeing the sideline and reaching out to pluck a bouncing fumble that led to a Steelers touchdown.
"Being in the right place," Cockrell said. "I've been watching NFL football my whole life. Anytime you're going out of bounds you've got to get two feet in."
Certainly Cockrell got those hands and instincts from his father.
"That's right," Cockrell said with a handsome smile. "My mom gave me everything else."