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Former Bulldog Cox makes transition for NFL's Eagles

 

By Greg Bates, Special to The Dispatch

 

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Fletcher Cox knew it wasn't going to be easy. 

 

After one year of getting acclimated to the NFL, Cox was in store for a big change after the Philadelphia Eagles overhauled their coaching staff and switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme, which meant Cox was moving from a tackle to an end, a position Cox hadn't played since high school. 

 

Good thing Cox is versatile. 

 

"It was different, but I'm always willing for change," Cox said. "This has helped me with my football ability, being able to play both positions." 

 

Ten games into the 2013 NFL season, the former Mississippi State standout has made the transition to right end look pretty smooth. 

 

"I feel like he's been doing well," Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "He's asked to two gap and do some things he's not used to, but he's bought in and he's doing what he needs to do for his defense." 

 

Going from the inside and shifting to the outside can be a dramatic change for any defensive player. Instead of taking on the center or one of the guards on every play, Cox has had to fend off blocks mainly from tackles or tight ends. He also has to deal with different footwork. 

 

Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin knows it's a tough switch going to the outside. 

 

"It is on first and second down because you have to two gap, which you never did before, and sometimes it harder to get a pass rush when you two gap first," Barwin said. "Like when you're in a gap technique, you can kind of just go. It is a change, but everybody knew Fletcher would have no problem making the adjustment." 

 

Cox, the 12th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, has enjoyed learning the new position and the challenges it presents. 

 

"You're going to get different blocks, you'll get different looks," Cox said. "But I think at the end of the day, the coaches put me in the best position to make people have to block me. That's the thing about it, you never know where I'll line up. The coaches have me all over the field. I'm up, I'm down, I'm playing nose tackle, I'm playing outside, I'm standing up. You never know. At the end of the day, it's fun." 

 

It took a number of games for Cox to adjust to his new position. Cox felt repetition was the best method. 

 

By the sixth week of the season, it seemed Cox was a wily veteran at defensive end. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cox had five quarterback hurries, two hits, and three tackles. 

 

"I think Fletch really caused a lot of havoc and it was probably the best way to say it," Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly after the Buccaneers game. "I think he tied up a lot of blockers and really pushed the pocket really, really well from inside." 

 

Cox has been productive in the first 25 games of his career. As a rookie, he had 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and a forced fumble and missed just one regular-season game. This season, Cox has 23  

 

tackles and is tied for second on the team with three sacks. 

 

"He's playing the run game well, pass rushing well," Ryans said. "He's a solid defensive lineman." 

 

In a 27-13 victory against Green Bay on Sunday, Cox was instrumental in the defense's effort even though he only had two tackles. 

 

"As you could see, (the Packers) couldn't run the ball," Barwin said. "He does a great job getting pressure on the quarterback. We as a group didn't get the sacks necessarily, but we packed a punch, and that has a lot to do with Fletcher." 

 

It's becoming common for Cox to make his mark every week. Even though he's only in his second professional season, Cox has caught the attention of his veteran teammates. 

 

"I just see him continuing to get better every single week, and you can see his confidence building," Barwin said.

 

 

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