The learning curve has been shortened and the expectations heightened and now rookie Fletcher Cox has no choice – he must be very good, very quickly.
Cox, a DT from Mississippi State, was the Eagles’ first-round pick in April’s NFL draft and they even moved up three spots to grab him with the 12th overall selection. Still, Cox wasn’t supposed to have too much pressure on him as a rookie. The Eagles’ starters were set, with Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins, and the Eagles already had solid depth with Derek Landri and Antonio Dixon.
But then it was announced that Patterson won’t take part in training camp as he recovers from off-season brain surgery, and even though the Eagles hope Patterson will be back in time for the season opener, nobody really knows.
So, now Cox is expected to play a major role in the Eagles’ rotation at DT and he might even move into the starting lineup, although Landri is getting first crack at the job. Either way, the pressure is on now.
“He’s going to be accelerated,” defensive line coach Jim Washburn said. “He’s a good player and he has to play.”
Cox said he’s already learned a lot from his coaches and from watching and talking to Patterson and Jenkins during the spring mini-camps. But he also knows the competition will heat up now that the veterans are in camp and there will be some actual hitting in practice.
“To me, that’s football and I look forward to it,” Cox said. “That’s the real test, when you’ve got the pads on and get physical. That’s when you’ve got to be at your best.”
As even though he was willing to be patient and work his way into the lineup, Cox is also glad for a chance to line up with the first team.
“That’s my goal – to be a starter,” Cox said. “I expect a lot out of myself and that’s my motivation – to go out every day and push myself to the highest level.”
He’s already make a good impression on Washburn, who will ultimately decide how much Cox plays and when. Washburn said he’s not concerned about the rookie having to take on such a big load so soon.
“He’s a mature guy anyway,’” Washburn said. “I spent time with him at our facility, took him out to eat, and found out who he was. He’s mature and he’s savvy.”
“I gave him a riddle two nights ago, the hardest riddle I had,” Washburn added with a grin. “And the next morning he told me he had the answer. I said, ‘You googled it, didn’t you?’ and he said, ‘Yeah I did — I cheated.’ … He’s clever and he’s smart.”
Washburn wouldn’t repeat the riddle for reporters, but he made his point – he tested his young protégé and Cox passed easily. And now the hitting starts and the real testing begins.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.