Dustin Fox came to Ohio State last year as one of the top safety prospects in the nation. He saw the field right away as the Buckeyes' nickel back and was also a backup safety. Not bad for a true freshman, but his year wasn't over quite yet.
After Derek Ross underwent surgery following the Michigan game, Fox was shifted to cornerback. He was inserted into the starting lineup for the Outback Bowl and although he didn't play flawlessly, he played well enough to give the coaching staff something to think about during the offseason. When spring practice finally rolled around, defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio told Fox (6-0, 190) he'd be playing cornerback and told him not to expect a move back to safety anytime soon.
"Spring ball was big for me," Fox told Bucknuts.com. "That's when I developed a lot of confidence and really got to concentrate on being a corner and just a corner."
So far this season, Fox has established himself as the Bucks No. 1 corner.
He has the speed (4.3/40), the "swiveling" hips, the ball skills and still hits like a strong safety.
So, is he finally feeling at home at cornerback? And if so, when did he first find that comfort zone?
"Yeah, I'm definitely feeling at home now," Fox said. "I probably first felt that way after the Texas Tech game. I felt comfortable being a starter there and felt that I was able to make some plays. The Outback Bowl last year was really my first time on the island and I just wasn't comfortable out there yet."
With his strong play at corner, Fox is reaching the point where he might never move back to safety. Looking ahead to next year, the Bucks will lose Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey, so the general assumption is that Fox will move back to his "natural" position. But, if he continues to play this well, don't expect that move to happen. It is easier to find a good safety than it is to find a good corner, and the coaches might want to leave Fox right where he is for the next two years.
"That's one of those things where it depends on exactly what we have
here," Fox said. "Whatever the needed area may be, I can fill in. I guess I'm
kind of the utility guy of the DBs, but I'm not concerned about it. I like
playing cornerback, but if they need me at safety next year, it won't be a
problem to move."
Due to the Richard McNutt situation, true freshman E.J. Underwood is now starting opposite Fox at corner. What is Fox's assessment of Underwood so far?
"E.J is playing well; he's come a long way since he reported. He's a little more calm than I was last year, that's for sure. E.J. is always relaxed out there, he's a laid-back guy, and I think that's the attitude you need to have to play the position."
Underwood is going through some of the same learning experiences that Fox went through last year, right?
"Well, it's a little different because E.J. played corner in high school. He's used to being out on the island, so I think he has adjusted faster than I did last year."
The Bucks are currently ranked No. 4 in the nation, their highest slot since 1998. Is that something that the players get excited about, or do they not pay much attention to it?
"It's exciting to a certain degree. It's nice being ranked that high, but we have a lot of goals that we want to achieve by the end of the year and where we're ranked right now doesn't really matter. There's also a lot of pressure that goes with it, teams will be gunning for us even more, but that makes it fun," Fox said.
There's been a lot of talk that OSU's pass defense hasn't been up to
par. However, when you play teams that only throw it, the statistics are going
to be a little out of whack. What's Fox's take on all of that?
"I think our pass defense has played well, teams have just been chucking it up against us. You can't always look at the numbers when it comes to stuff like that."
But for every negative thing that is said about the pass D, something nice is said about the Bucks' run D.
"We've been playing well against the run and that is the main thing we talk about in our meetings. We want to stop the run first. I guess we'll find out this week just how good we are against the run, but right now we're playing with a lot of confidence."
Is Fox excited to take on Wisconsin this week?
"Yeah, I hear it's going to be crazy up there, but I'm excited to get the chance to play in Camp Randall. It's a hostile environment, but that's what you look forward to. It's going to be a big game for us."
Is OSU coming in with a chip on its shoulder?
"Coming off our loss last year (blew 17-0 lead), we're a little upset obviously. We want to prove that we're a good team and we can win on the road against a good team. And I think we have a little bit to avenge, I guess you could say."
What about the now infamous Brooks Bollinger picture?
"We all know about it. Me personally, I don't pay much attention to stuff like that," Fox said.
What is the key to shutting down Bollinger and the Badger offense?
"We've got to get some up-front pressure on him and try and rattle him. Penn State had, I think, 11 sacks against them and Northern Illinois had like 10. So, we can get some pressure on him and we have the guys that can do that. We know it's going to be a big key for us.
"We also obviously need to stop the run. That is their bread and butter with (Anthony) Davis."
Most of the Buckeye defenders have mentioned this week that they are looking forward to playing against a running team for a change. Fox echoed those comments.
"It's a different pace than we've been facing and that's a good thing. We get to play a little smash-mouth football in the Big Ten and that's what we're looking forward to."