Cox, Defensive Line Dogs Setting Higher Goals

The only letdown having Fletcher Cox speak for the Bulldog defense was, it was only a solo act. As capable as Cox was at handling SEC Media Day duty, it would have been more insightful with Josh Boyd alongside. And certainly more entertaining. "Yeah, we're always arguing a lot!" Cox cheerfully says.

Yep, it would have made for a fine show seating both Mississippi State defensive tackles on the same stage, giving them the same questions, and letting them head off into differing perspectives. Especially about one another.

"Being on the same team, we always compete against each other," says Cox. "We're always talking ball, and we're always arguing like brothers."

Ahhh, but like loyal brothers Cox and Boyd—or is it Boyd and Cox?—agree on the biggest Bulldog issues. And if regional media members missed a potential treat watching them in action together, SEC coaches are already uncomfortably familiar with their on-field act. Cox might get more individual attention, such as the preseason All-SEC honors that have come his way this summer.

But in a real State sense the pair practically is inseparable when discussing the Bulldog defense. They make the solid core around which coordinator—and by no coincidence line coach—Chris Wilson is building his 2011 schemes. Both have two seasons in the MSU systems and are just now coming into their playing prime(s).

Which means that even in a league where defensive line play is paramount, these Dogs stand out. "Yeah, me and Josh talk about it all the time," Cox says. Talk that translates into things Boyd and he are saying to the rest of the summer squad as everyone prepares for camp.

"I'm really excited about it," says Cox. "I always tell the guys don't work the same as you did last year, it's a new year; work harder than you did last year. Then you know you'll be better."

Cox has already done pretty darned good by MSU. He is coming off a 29-tackle sophomore season with 6.5 of those stops for losses including 2.5 sacks. Not so surprisingly, Guess Who was immediately behind his cohort on the 2011 tackles list? Right, Boyd with 24/7.5/2.5. To be fair, Cox missed a whole game and a couple of starts with an ankle issue, and once or twice State went with bigger-body James Carmon as the starting tackle alongside Boyd…who never missed a start, giving him one trump card on his buddy.

Numbers for interior tackles though rarely tell a whole story. It is the pure presence of B'nC disrupging things at the point of contact, tying up blockers, influencing which direction the play must go that makes the pair so potent already. Not, Cox reminds, that past performance is sufficient for the new season.

"Coach Mullen talks about there being a high expectation. He sets the standard, you get to your standard; but you want to be better than you were last year. This year you want to do a whole lot better."

Not that Mullen or Wilson have to push their veteran tackles too hard to improve. Cox is justly proud of the extra effort he, and for that matter the whole varsity defense, has put into getting themselves ready for both training camp and the campaign itself. Everybody has heard about the hours spent working in the weightroom or conditioning on the track. But what about the after-hours investment in themselves?

"I mean, it's what you're doing when a coach is not around," Cox says. "Like when you're watching more film of yourself, or watching your opponents; what do they do on this end and that end? It's basically about getting better." Not to mention smarter about how a SEC offense operates. Or, in terms of correcting seemingly minor flaws in technique that could be exposed in a big—and bad—way on Saturdays here in the brutal Western Division.

"I mean, work on execution, watch more film, correct the things that you did wrong." Besides, come August there'll be a guy more than willing to point those things out at practice. Wilson has high hopes for his unit and with that comes increased standards. Cox also knows which direction the coordinator will turn his eyes when a practice play misfires, too.

"Well, Coach Wilson, if something happens he'll look at me as if ‘why did that happen? You're supposed to be the leader?'" He'll also look at Josh, and Ferg (veteran end Sean Ferguson), all us three, having played in the SEC." But the first object of coaching ire remains #94. "He'll just get on me and I'll tell him it won't happen again. He always wants us to understand what is going on, what situation we're in, and what to do when things happen. And to correct it so it doesn't happen again."

One thing Wilson has not needed correct is the approach to playing Dog defense. No surprise of course as Wilson was co-coordinator last fall. Cox says the transition was simple and easy in spring and come camp it is full-speed ahead. Literally.

"We've got the same ‘attack' defense, we're going to get after it. And we're going to get after one another and he gets after us. He hasn't changed, a couple of things have different terminology but everything is basically the same with the d-line."

However one fact has changed for Bulldog football this fall. They've experienced some real success, people have noticed, and now Mississippi State goes into a season with some spotlights turned their way. Such as a preseason ranking, or being tabbed by SEC media to finish fourth in the West…since all understand #4 in in this special Division is better than fourth in a lot of leagues. Maybe in the land.

Going from underdog to contender is welcome progress, agrees Cox. So is getting real attention at Media Days. "But you have to get respect for yourself first, and once your deserve respect then maybe everybody else will have respect.

"To me, attention is good. But I say it's a new team, a new year, last year was last year's team. So we have higher expectations. You have to set it, and meet it. The plan is to get to Atlanta and play in the national championship." Now THAT would win attention, for sure.

Meanwhile, its back to work for Cox. And for Boyd of course…does it surprise anyone that they share an address? The mind boggles at what neighbors hear when these two big, bold Dogs get one of their arguments going. Teammates already know.

"We just go at it every day, talk noise at each other in the weight room, on the field, about like who is the fastest. In the summer we worked on our get-offs (the line of scrimmage) together and we always argue about who does best." At least when camp begins there will be a ‘winner' as a coach will arbitrate ‘tween the two. One wonders if they keep it up around campus, in classes, even at the dining hall. Who eats more/healthier/faster/whatever?

Hopefully when 2011 kicks off fans can keep score of another competition: which of these junior tackles gets to the football first? All in fun, of course. "Being on the same team, we always compete against each other," Cox says. "We stay together, so it's a good thing. I've been knowing Josh since high school and I look at him as my big brother. If I can't find nobody to talk to he's always there for me."

Which means last week's Media Day was one of the rare times Boyd and Cox were not teamed-up and talking. Don't worry though, Josh. Your bro did just fine at the annual preseason press-fest. And there is always the pending Mississippi State edition of a media day in a couple of weeks when both should have their turns at the microphone. Just another part of the job Dan Mullen expects for this prime-time tag team, eh?

Or as Fletcher puts it, "I feel real good about representing my school, my family. Just representing Mississippi."

No argument about that.

Gene's Page Top Stories