Eagles rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been a rare bright spot on a team gone down the tubes. Thanks to his involvement with 2012 Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week program, I got to talk with Cox on the phone Tuesday and ask him a bunch of questions about his first year in Philadelphia. Enjoy!
BS: For many rookies, it takes a year or two to physically match up with guys in the NFL. But that hasn’t seemed to be a problem for you. Why is that?
FC: It’s all about matching up, being coachable and being able to listen to those guys that have been in the league six-plus years, because they’ve been rookies before. They’ve had guys to coach them up and they’ll be able to coach me up on a lot of things I might be doing wrong. So just listening. It’s helped my play a lot. And being physical is part of football. You have to be physical with the guy across from you. If you’re not, that means you’re losing and he’s winning. That’s a big part: being physical and competitive.
BS: Seems like your run defense has been great, sometimes drawing two blockers, but in the pass rush those sacks haven't come quite as easily. Why do think that side is coming on a little bit slower?
FC: Well, I talk to a lot of guys. I told them, man, I need to work on it. A lot of guys know I can play this. Cullen [Jenkins] knows. He always coaching me up on pass rush, he always tells me I can play the run as good as anyone. Just stresses pass rush, pass rush. I just work on that.
BS: Is it something effort-wise that you can just keep pushing, or is it something technique-wise that you can improve?
FC: All of that. And another thing is, it’s hard for a defensive tackle, being inside. It’s hard. He told me when I first got here, it’s hard in this league for defensive tackles to get a whole lot of sacks rather than d-ends. I believed it.
BS: What has Jim Washburn taught you?
FC: Just getting off the ball and getting my hands on the guy across from you. A great get-off, it starts with that. A bad get-off you’re going to have bad play. If you have a good get-off, nine times out of ten you’re making a play or disrupting things. It’s always about getting off first.
BS: Has anything changed for you up front since the defensive coordinator change?
FC: No, nothing has changed. Nothing at all. No different play-calling, nothing like that.
BS: Do you enjoy playing in this one-gap system vs. the two-gap system?
FC: I like one-gap. If I were in that two-gap system I would probably be that defensive end. It’s a whole lot more fun when you don’t have to take on blockers, let linebackers make all the plays. Here, everybody makes plays in this defense. I enjoy it. I got a little taste of it in college and now that’s kind of what I’m used to.
BS: I’ve overheard some inside joking among the defensive linemen about “doing a Mike P.” Could you explain that one to us?
FC: (Deep belly laugh…)
BS: Obviously, we know who that sounds like. What does it refer to?
FC: I never really got the full inside scoop on the Mike P. We always kept… I’m thinking because we were just keeping him up since he wasn’t playing. It’s part of his motivation. But now that he’s playing we’re still on that Mike P. So I don’t know, I can’t even tell you.
BS: This is obviously only your first year, but things haven’t been so great the last few weeks. How do you deal with that? Do you feel any extra pressure?
FC: I don’t feel an attitude change. Everyone’s attitude is to still have a positive attitude. At the end, we’re still fighting. I don’t feel like anyone is going to give up on this team. We’re going to keep fighting, keep punching. We all believe in each other, believe in the coach. We’ll get the job done.
BS: Was there any one thing coming into the NFL that surprised you, that you said ‘wow, I didn’t expect that?’
FC: It’s a business. That’s the biggest thing. You see guys in there one day, the next day they’re gone.
BS: Is there a player on the defensive line you look up to, say you want to be like him?
FC: A lot of guys. You can’t say you want to be like just one. Obviously, you know, he might be good at one thing that you might not be good at. So, it’s not saying you want to be like that person. It’s saying you want to be like them but you want to be better. Not saying he’s not good, because guys who have been in the NFL 8, 9 years, they must be doing something good. You can say I want to do that but I want to find ways to do it better.
BS: When you look to the future, what do you want to do? What do you want to accomplish a few years down the road?
FC: My main goal is to get through year one, through the rookie year. Then get to year two. Then get to year three. Looking ahead is really not something I’ve always done. A lot of guys ask, ‘How long you going to play in the NFL?’ Let me get through year one. And then get to year two. Then get to year three. You set daily goals. You reach that goal every day, then you’re progressing. If you’re looking years from now, you never know what happens.
BS: Do you mean the possibility to get injured, the possibility that coaches change, and that it’s a business?
FC: Exactly. You can’t predict that.
BS: What does Washburn say about that?
FC: Focus on getting better every play, every time you’re on the field, every snap. You’re not on the field long, so play hard, play hard, play hard. You mess up, you can’t replay that play. So go on to the next one.
BS: Back in training camp he said he gave you a riddle to do. I thought that was odd.
BS: Is that pretty typical, or was that just something he did once?
FC: That’s typical. He used to do it a lot. We’re just joking around, having fun.
BS: He said you were clever for having just Googled the riddle.
FC: Yeah, one of his riddles. I just blew it out of the water. But it was because I heard it before.
BS: You were down in the SEC, which is big time. But what do you think about coming up to the NFL, the fans in Philadelphia? Do you see other guys getting booed and worry about that at all?
FC: (Laughs, long pause…) It’s fun. Just being here and playing in front of all the fans. It’s a lot of people’s dream to play in the NFL. We have our backs against the wall and we’re being challenged to come out and most of all, have fun playing this game. That’s the one thing I can say, I go out there and have fun. I’m always smiling. I’m just being myself.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photo from Getty.