PITTSBURGH — Dylan Cook is on the Steelers’ initial 53-man roster. If you were looking for someone who fits the bill of coming out of nowhere and making the team, Cook was that for Pittsburgh this year. Signed after the Buccaneers released him, Cook came into the building and immediately started to gain the coaching staff’s trust. By the end of the preseason, Cook played at three different positions and had climbed up to the second string unit. Now, after a strong summer, he is rewarded for that play with a roster.
But truth be told, this is the unlikeliest of outcomes for Cook. His path started when he was a high school quarterback, hoping to star at the same school as his brother, Montana State. Cook suffered a broken collarbone during his senior year of high school. When the calls did not come, Cook attended NAIA school Montana State-Northern. Yet, Cook did not play much there, and following his sophomore season, he entered the transfer portal. But no teams called, and Cook was ready to move on from football.
“We weren’t very good,” Cook said. “We were going like 1-10 both my years there. I wasn’t getting great playing time, so I was like, ‘Why am I here? What am I doing?’ So I actually left and didn’t plan on playing football anymore. I was ready to just start working and move on.”
Then, on a whim, he received a text message from a staff member at Montana, who wanted him to come aboard as an offensive lineman. Cook embraced it and played well, earning a UDFA contract from the Buccaneers last year. He flashed quickly, but Tampa Bay moved on this year. The Steelers decided to take a chance on him.
When he entered the NFL, Cook had to change his entire technical base. A player with little experience at tackle already had to change his punching hand and footwork to cater to the philosophy in Tampa Bay. That made it excruciatingly tough for Cook, but offensive line coach Pat Meyer had a different philosophy when he came to Pittsburgh. He stripped away all the teachings that Tampa Bay instilled in him and let him play how he was taught in college. Cook is an outside-hand first puncher, and Meyer likes his tackles to be inside-hand punchers, just like Tampa Bay. But Meyer noticed Cook never felt comfortable with that philosophy, so he worked with him as an outside puncher. Once that happened, Cook’s play took off from there.
“That was an adjustment,” Cook said. “You know, all the techniques I was taught at little Montana in the FCS just got all thrown out the window. We were inside-hand punchers in Tampa; they’re solely outside-hand (at Montana), I really had to learn on the fly with coaches in Tampa. Coach Meyer is great about letting us play how we play and working around that. He doesn’t hate that I punch with my outside hand, but he works with me on how to be more efficient with it, which I love. I couldn’t ask for a better coach.”
Cook rewarded Meyer’s faith in him. With great footwork and athleticism, Cook shined in one-on-ones. Then, when the lights turned on in games, Cook started to clear holes in the run game and become one of the team’s best pass protectors. That former quarterback background allows him to become versatile. It does more than that, though. Cook processes at a macro level as a quarterback, and the transition to thinking like a lineman in pass protection is swift. The next step for Cook should be to embrace the mauler mentality with his size and functional strength.
But he accomplished something off the beaten path — a former quarterback-to-tackle conversion that is now on an active 53-man NFL roster. For someone ready to quit football at 20 years old, Cook surpassed any expectations that even he thought he could reach to this point.