Fletcher Cox has been forced to do a lot of growing up in his rookie season. In addition to the usual rigors of adjusting to the game on the field, the 21-year-old defensive tackle has had to deal with a tumultuous season off the field as well.
Take last week for example. After missing practice last Wednesday with a tailbone injury, Cox learned that his maternal grandmother, Jimmy Hankins, had passed away. Cruelly, Cox's grandmother was the fourth dear friend or family member who has passed away since Cox arrived in Philadelphia. So Cox traveled home to Mississippi before meeting the Eagles in Dallas, where he started in the team's loss to the Cowboys. A day later, his position coach was relieved of his duties.
"I've been faced with a lot of things to come in as a rookie, (four) deaths in the family," said Cox, the second-youngest player on the Eagles roster behind running back Bryce Brown. "It's just a challenge. I think I've kind of handled it real well and been professional about it. I'm real private. I don't say a lot."
Back in June, Cox's cousin and best friend Melvin, 21, tragically died in a car crash. Since then, Cox has also lost his cousin Treil and his father's wife in addition to his grandmother.
"I can handle a lot of things, a lot of pressure," said Cox. "It's just, things that happen, you just have to realize that it's life. I wasn't expecting my grandma to die and my plans were to go see her as soon as possible. I talked to her and she always wonders where I am, and she was wondering if anything's happening to me."
The funeral service for Cox's grandmother is this Saturday and he'll be in attendance to pay his last respects. From there, Cox will once again meet the team separately, this time in Tampa Bay as the Eagles prepare to take on the 6-6 Buccaneers.
Amid that emotion, Cox must also adjust to Tommy Brasher, his new position coach following the dismissal of Jim Washburn, the man who brought Cox along as an Eagle.
"I was a little surprised when it happened and I kind of got a little sad or whatever, but I also realized that this is a business. Just like you see players in and out, you see the same thing for coaches," said Cox. "Now we have to learn from coach Tommy.
"I still think I can make plays. I know I can make plays. You just have to commit yourself to it and do it how coach Tommy teaches it."
Cox returned to practice Thursday as a full participant after missing Wednesday's practice to rest his sore tailbone. He all but guaranteed that he'll play on Sunday.
Through all the emotional ups and downs of his rookie season, Cox has excelled on the field. He leads all Eagles defensive linemen with 51 tackles, including four for a loss. And, taken with a grain of salt, he ranks 16th of 81 qualifying defensive tackles in overall play according to ProFootballFocus. Playing in his first NFL game outside the confines of the wide-nine, then, will just be another test for the heavy-hearted Cox.
He's confident the new-look defensive line can get the job done.
"We'll all do a good job of adjusting to it," he said. "I know us as a (defensive) line are doing a great job of communicating and talking with coach Tommy. We'll all get it."
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider.