Zamir Cobb was shocked when he heard the criticism.
The former Owls wide receiver was running routes at training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers when Pro Bowler Hines Ward suggested Cobb was not being as precise with his route-running as he could be.
“When [Ward] spoke I was kind of surprised, because he was one of the first people to ever criticize my routes,” said Cobb, who friends and former teammates describe as a perfectionist in all areas of life, especially football.
“I allow nothing negative in my route-running, and I like to be as precise as possible to the point where it’s mind-boggling, almost irritating,” he said.
Without shortchanging Cobb’s athletic talent, that intensity is probably what has gotten him so close to the NFL. He is generously listed at 5-foot-11 inches and 180 pounds, and his 4.4-second time in the 40-yard dash is fast. But compared to other pro receivers, it is not blazing.
Nevertheless, the Washington, D.C., native left Temple as the school’s all-time leader in career receptions (165) after a 2003 season in which he surpassed the single-season receiving record (65 by Clint Graves in 1972) with 74 catches.
Zamir (pronounced duh-MEER) Cobb went undrafted in last spring’s NFL draft, but the Steelers saw enough in his collegiate accomplishments to overlook nagging groin problems that delayed the start of his sophomore season and cost him six games due to a hernia operation in 2001.
Pittsburgh signed him to a rookie free agent contract in April.
“As far as the draft … I was disappointed more for my family than for myself,” Cobb said. “My focus has been and will always continue to be on my family and the betterment of my community. Not only economically for my family, but for my community by making it somewhere not a lot of people have been-a prestigious institution like the NFL.”
Cobb seemed to have all but made it this summer, impressing the Pittsburgh staff enough in training camp to earn a position on the depth chart or on the practice squad. His rise to the pro ranks hit a bump when he broke his ankle late in camp. On Aug. 24, the Steelers placed Cobb on injured reserve, effectively ending his season.
“That was the only thing that ever kept Zamir from being great all the time, his health,” Temple coach Bobby Wallace said. “When he was healthy he was an outstanding football player, and fun to watch.”
As with every conversation involving Cobb’s name, Wallace brought the subject back to the receiver’s infatuation with perfection.
“Zamir’s biggest problem was that he was probably too critical of himself,” the coach added. “He wanted every little step to be perfect, which is good, but sometimes he’d get down on himself about it.”
On the field, problems were fixable for Cobb. In the classroom he had a more difficult time, but as always he refused to accept anything less than his utmost best.
A poor SAT score made Cobb ineligible to play his freshman season. He hit the books, and will soon graduate with a 3.0 GPA, having made the honor roll three straight semesters.
Although his athletic obligation to Temple is technically complete, his wife, Ashley, was part of his inspiration to fulfill the necessary coursework to earn his degree. She graduated from Temple in May.
Once Cobb joins her as a Temple alumnus, he will be able to close the book on his college career. But the memory of his intensity has left him plenty of fans among his former teammates.
“I’ve definitely got love for him, because he’s from my neighborhood,” said junior wideout Mike Holley, who watched the slightly older Cobb play at Roosevelt High School in Washington. “He was always like that, just intense, whether in football, basketball, everything.”
“I’m a part of Temple’s history,” Cobb said. “Regardless of the size or scope of the program, I’m part of the record books and I’m going to be a Temple grad soon, like my wife.”
Currently, signs seem to indicate Cobb will make the team next season after his ankle heals. But, true to form, Cobb isn’t about to let up.
“As crazy as this business is, if I make an assumption [about making the team] I would be stupid,” he said. “I have potential, and they recognize that, but I still have to prove it.”
“I respect the fact that they’ll respect me after, and only after, I have shown that I deserve that respect on the field.”
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.