Most third-round draft picks come to their first minicamp with stars in their eyes and wild dreams of impressing the socks off the coaching staff, hoping to win a starting job as a rookie.
But occasionally, you'll find a rookie who comes to town with eyes wide open, knowing that his role from the start will be to provide depth, make a few plays on special teams and just not screw up too much in his first year. That's Dustin Fox, in a nutshell.
Fox was a four-year starter at cornerback for the powerhouse Ohio State teams that won one national championship and played in four bowl games over the past four years. But when he was drafted by the Vikings last month, he took one look at the roster and realized that, thanks to recent free agent additions in the secondary, he'd be easing his way into the starting lineup, not hitting Minneapolis with a big splash like he did in Columbus, when he was named Most Outstanding First-Year Defensive Player as a freshman.
"I'm fine with that," said Fox on the idea of backing up safeties Corey Chavous and Darren Sharper while providing emergency insurance at cornerback. "We've got some serious players in the secondary and a lot of veterans who know what they're doing, so I'm fine with sitting back and learning from them this year, and maybe contributing on special teams."
It's actually the best situation possible for Fox, because he has to learn a new position. He played cornerback for his whole career at Ohio State, but probably lacks the quickness to stick with NFL wide receivers on a consistent basis. Now, he can get his work done in the weight room, where he's hoping to add bulk to his 190-pound frame so he's better able to provide assistance at the line of scrimmage.
"I think coming from the cornerback position, I'm more comfortable stopping the pass," Fox said. "The biggest adjustment for me will be getting involved in the running game. I'll be getting my upper body stronger in the weight room, and studying more."
Ah, yes, the playbook, a rookie's constant companion, even on defense. Fox knows that when you get to the NFL, you're not allowed to use ignorance as an excuse, so he'll be studying even more now than in his days at Ohio State, where he's on track to complete his degree in communications later this spring.
"There's not a lot of room for error here," Fox said. "Everything is so much more professional. You're expected to know what you're doing, and there's no opportunity to mess up. And they don't take a lot of time to explain things here -- you're expected to learn them on your own and from watching the other guys."
At Ohio State, Fox played what was described as a "boundary corner" position in the Buckeyes' scheme. He gave up a heavy cushion and used superior tackling ability to limit plays on his side of the field, according to Steve Helwagen, editor of the Bucknuts website and magazine.
It worked well for him, as Ohio State was 32-3 in games that Fox started over the last three years (and 1-3 in games he did not start), according to Helwagen.
Fortunately for Fox, his new NFL teammates have been helpful so far, especially the former Ohio State players on the Vikings roster. Fox's former teammate, defensive end Darrion Scott, is here, as well as another former Buckeye cornerback, Antoine Winfield.
"They've been cool to me so far," Fox said after one minicamp practice. "I played with Darrion, and Antoine was there before me so I hadn't met him much until I got here, but both of them have been real good to me. It's great to know guys like them when you're in a new situation like this."
And being a rookie, Fox knows enough to know he's got to follow the lead of the veterans on the squad if he's going to figure out what this whole NFL thing is all about. Asked what he hopes to learn from them, he said, "The little things you need to do be successful. These guys have been in the league for awhile and know what you need to do, so I'll go out there and try to emulate them."
Fox Displays Patience, Winning Approach
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