Through seven games, rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been everything the coaches were hoping he would be when they moved up in April's draft to select him with the 12th overall selection. His rare blend of athleticism and power allows him to fight through double teams while still having the speed to be an effective pass rusher.
It'd be unfair not to credit Cox's natural athleticism and terrific scheme fit for his success. But Cox said the biggest factor for his early success is simply being eager to learn.
"It's just listening," he said. "Just listening to the older guys and taking coaching. Taking it in, soaking it in and going out on the field and using it. That's what helped me a whole lot, not thinking I know it all by being young, or that because I went in the first round I know it all. You're in the NFL, and everybody's good. So you have to listen.
"I don't mind asking questions and I feel like any dumb question is a question I don't ask. So I ask all kinds of questions."
The rookie has made an impact right out of the gate. In the first game of the season against Cleveland, he registered a sack and five tackles as part of the team's four-man rotation. Last week, he was promoted to the starting lineup, and Cox proved he was up to the task by making a career-high 11 tackles, including two for a loss. While getting the start meant a great deal to Cox, the defensive line rotation has made him feel like a starter since day one.
"When I was playing behind Cullen (Jenkins) and Derek (Landri), I looked at it as I was a starter, too," Cox said. "Because we all play and we all rotate, so it's just like (Defensive line coach Jim Washburn) was telling me, that I've always been a starter. And in my head that's how I play, I play like a starter."
Cox has been one of the bright spots on a defensive line that has underachieved thus far. While the linemen are creating pressure, Cox said, they aren't finishing the job.
"We're getting at it," he said. "If you know football and watch tape you can see that. The rush is getting there and the quarterback's getting rid of the ball. But that's no excuse. We just have to get there and get them down."
Monday night presents a great challenge for the defense as a whole. The New Orleans Saints employ one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Drew Brees. He's a player who consistently puts up gaudy numbers, and does it by being quick and deliberate with his passes.
"He doesn't hold the ball," Cox said. "He gets the ball out quickly. He's a guy who you don't have to make him hold the ball. I know the back seven will do their job and make him hold the ball and the front four will get there."
Winning in New Orleans will depend a great deal on how well the defensive line can get pressure. Take down Brees, and the Eagles defense can get off the field, allowing the offense to work against the league's worst defense. But if Cox's first start is any indication, making plays and getting to the quarterback shouldn't be as tough a task.
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