Even before Dustin Fox spoke his answer to the first question we addressed to him about moving from safety to cornerback, the answer was written all over his face with his million-dollar smile.
"I'm lovin' it. I'm back home. It feels natural," Fox said.
After a year of being cast a safety by the Vikings' former coaching staff, Fox was playing cornerback full-time at the team's opening minicamp earlier this month. His 2005 season of frustration is behind him, and he's ready to move forward with a clean bill of health and his new position that is actually more familiar to him.
Fox had been playing cornerback since his sophomore year at Ohio State, but when the Vikings drafted him in 2005, they saw him first as a safety. His professional career started by not being able to attend most of the minicamp sessions because of an NFL rule that states a rookie's school must be done before he can attend voluntary workout sessions.
That put Fox in a hole early as a rookie. When he broke his arm early in a training camp practice and was placed on injured reserve, that capped a season that never really got started.
"The biggest thing for me going back to corner … if I was playing safety (again) it might have been hard because I missed a year," he said about starting all over again … kind of. "After that first practice, I feel like I'm starting to get it down again."
Fox was playing mainly the nickel cornerback in the Vikings' second-team defense. While the first-team nickel defensive featured Fred Smoot and 2005 undrafted rookie Dovonte Edwards on the outside and veteran Antoine Winfield defending the slot, Fox is hoping to find a role somewhere in the cornerback rotation.
He said the team informed him of his move back to cornerback after the new coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, was hired.
"Mike and them, when they were recruiting me in the draft last year (as coaches for Tampa Bay), they wanted me as a corner at Tampa. I guess they feel that's where I'm best-suited and I feel comfortable there. I like it. It feels like it's home," he said.
Last year, the Vikings had a low-key Ted Cottrell as their defensive coordinator. This year, things on the practice field are quite different. Brad Childress is head coach, patrolling an organized practice, while Tomlin is the high-energy defensive coordinator, throwing away one stick of gum and replacing it with another before two downs of practice are completed.
With Tomlin's t-shirt turning two-tone gray with sweat, he coaches fundamentals and attention to detail.
"A new coach comes in, it takes a little while and you feel each other out for a little bit, but so far Mike is just a phenomenal coach. You can tell from Day One the way that he motivates, he's such a good leader, he's a young guy. He's got a great motor," Fox said. "He's just constantly going, the guy doesn't stop, which is great for us because when we get tired we've got someone to look to and to keep us going.
"He's sweating. He's just such a great motivator and that helps us. Seriously, when we get tired, he's saying, ‘Let's go, let's go.' That gets you going."
Although it's still very early in the implementation process of the Vikings' new Tampa-2 defensive scheme, players like the approach, according to Fox.
"Everyone is taking heed to it and likes the scheme, especially the way the coaches explain what we're doing and everyone understanding why we're doing it," Fox said. "That helps us out a lot. Everyone buys into what the coaches are telling us, and that's important."
It's not as complicated as you would think. It's more technique, fundamentals. Working hard, running to the ball, things like that – the fundamental things that help you become a successful defense are the most important things in this type of scheme."
In their first practices together, defensive coaches were imploring players to give effort even after the play was over. If a ball hit the ground on an incompletion, defenders were instructed to pick it up and start on a return, much like they would in if the ball were intercepted.
It took a little time in the team's initial practice to get that message ingrained, but by the Vikings' second day of practice, it looked like old hat to the new players.
"The way we talk about it, it's just muscle memory. If you practice like this when you're running to the ball and you get into a game, it's second nature," Fox said. "The coaches are getting mad at us if we're not doing it yet because it's not natural. It's just training your muscles to do that and you're training your mind to do that and eventually we'll all be moving fast and 100 percent to the ball every time."
The schemes the Vikings were implementing in their first minicamp were pretty basic, but the ideals of hustling all the time were the ones coaches were looking for, according to Fox.
And that cornerback – yes, cornerback – couldn't have been happier to be back on the field and back a position to which he had become accustomed.
A Cornered Fox Turns Happy
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