Postscripts — Cox's days are numbered

While certainly not a transgression on the level of Pac Man Jones or Chris Henry, Torrie Cox's four-game suspension will be felt in Tampa Bay. How will this effect Cox's hopes fo making the roster in 2007? Buccaneers Expert Matthew Postins has an opinion.

This isn't the first time Torrie Cox has run afoul of the law or the NFL.

Cox, 26, has been charged twice for suspicion of driving under the influence (December 2004 and September 2005) and reckless driving (September 2005).

His agent, Peter Schaffer, told Tampa-area news outlets that the punishment didn't fit the crime, and that Cox might appeal. Whatever that crime is, I think it might lead to the end of Cox's career in Tampa Bay.

This suspension will play a factor, but I think it will have much more to do with Cox's play on the field. Contrast Cox with another player who received a four-game suspension on Wednesday for violating the same policy — Oakland running back Dominic Rhodes.

Rhodes is coming off a Super Bowl performance in which he could have been elected the Most Valuable Player. Oakland is counting on him to provide it with solid offense this season. He'll serve his suspension and be welcomed back to the roster with open arms.

I'm not sure that will be the case with Cox. On the field Cox has underperformed, and combined with his off-the-field troubles, that could mean a slow death to his career in Tampa Bay.

Cox, a cornerback by trade, earned his stripes as a kick returner in 2004, when he averaged 26.2 yards per return to earn that job full time. That average was fourth best in the NFL and second best in franchise history.

But in 2005 his average fell off to 19.3, and he lost time to Edell Shepherd, among others.

Last year Cox slid further, returning only 18 kicks for an average of 21.5 yards. Michael Pittman took the majority of the returns. This year the Buccaneers invited Chad Owens to compete with Mark Jones for the starting kick returning job. Head coach Jon Gruden has made it clear he wants the same player returning kicks and punts, and Cox has no punt return experience, which would seem to eliminate him as a candidate.

Cox did contribute 20 special teams tackles last year, tying him for the team lead with Earnest Graham. He played as a backup to Ronde Barber, and later in the season made three starts at cornerback, and saw significant time at nickel corner. So it is cornerback where I believe Cox will have to make this team.

But I believe last season exposed Cox as a cornerback that has failed to develop in his five years in Tampa Bay. His size (just 5-foot-10) does not make him an ideal nickel corner. But also appears to have failed to develop the precise footwork and coverage skills of Barber and veteran Brian Kelly.

Want proof? His starts came against New Orleans, Carolina and Dallas. New Orleans QB Drew Brees victimized the Bucs for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Carolina QB Jake Delhomme had 240 yards and two touchdowns. Dallas QB Tony Romo had 306 yards passing and five touchdowns.

Additionally, in that New Orleans game, Cox felt the burn in a bad way. Cox fell behind Devery Henderson in coverage on Henderson's second touchdown catch of the game. Cox was sitting back on a go route and Henderson ran right by him. It was the second time New Orleans coach Sean Payton had gone after Cox that day for a big gain.

You can't blame Cox for ALL of that. But after four years you would think that he could keep a receiver in front of him when he's playing 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. Henderson had at least a yard on Cox when he made the catch.

Aside from 2004, Cox has done little to distinguish himself from the pack of backup cornerbacks, and that's why I believe his job was on the line before this suspension. Given that Tampa Bay drafted three defensive backs, still has last year's third-round pick in Alan Zemaitis and is enamored with Phillip Buchanon, it would seem the cornerback position — where Tampa Bay typically carries five players — is a battle between five players for two spots.

And while Cox will be in training camp, he won't really be a part of that battle because he'll miss the first four games of the season. By then, perhaps Marcus Hamilton or Zemaitis or Tanard Jackson will have proven to have more promise that Cox.

Cox's days in Tampa Bay are numbered, I'd say. But it won't be because of violating the substance abuse policy. His lack of progress on the football field has taken care of that. He may not be gone by the start of the season, but he will be by the end.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.

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