Fox Part of Nickel Back Battle

Dustin Fox is happy about his return to the cornerback position and his return to the football field after an injury sidelined him for the 2005 season early last training camp, but he will be fighting fierce competition to contribute in the Vikings' nickel defense.

On the first Sunday of Vikings training camp last year, then-rookie Dustin Fox had his season ended before it began. Fox almost made it to Aug. 1 in his first NFL training camp before suffering a broken arm, a recurrence of the same injury he had in college.

One year later, Fox says the injury doesn't even enter his mind …

"… but it's there. It was there last year because I hurt it in college and I played all through the rest of my college season with a broken arm and it didn't bother me," Fox said. "I'm going to wear a brace on it just so it doesn't happen again."

He has been wearing that purple brace throughout offseason practices and training camp this year, but it turned out last year was pretty much a lost season for the former Ohio State cornerback and 2005 third-round pick of the Vikings.

Fox went from hoping to learn from safeties Darren Sharper and Corey Chavous to a season spent on injured reserve, where he could try and learn the defense former coordinator Ted Cottrell was installing, but Fox couldn't practice.

Much has changed in that time. Cottrell has been replaced by Mike Tomlin, just as the rest of the coaching staff has changed. Cottrell's complex defense has been replaced by Tomlin's Tampa-2 system. And Fox is no longer working as a safety, instead trying to re-adjust to professional life as a cornerback.

"It's not even just getting used to corner, it's getting used to football because I haven't played in two years," Fox said. "It's definitely a transition getting back into it. You can imagine anything and taking two years off from it and just getting back into it. It's coming, though. It's not really a transition playing corner because that's what I played in college for four years. I'm excited about it."

Last spring, Fox lost practice time during the early developmental camps because Ohio State was still in session and he couldn't participate in those practices, according to NFL rules. He entered camp hoping to find a little playing time on defense and contribute on special teams. By the time the Vikings' first preseason game rolls around this year on Aug. 14, it will be about 20 months since Fox has played a game of football.

That was also the last time he was working as a cornerback, a position where he made 37 starts at Ohio State. During his career there, he had seven interceptions and 217 tackles and ranked first and second, respectively, on the team in solo tackles his final two seasons with the Buckeyes.

"You've got to develop those instincts and those techniques again because I haven't really used them in well over a year. Last training camp I was playing safety for four practices or whatever until I got hurt and that was it," he said.

So most of what Fox learned last year is out the door, along with the old defensive scheme.

"Cottrell had some good stuff and these guys obviously have some good stuff. I think change is always good. These guys are young … and they're pretty innovative with what they're doing. Everyone seems to be buying in so it should be a good deal," he said.

Fox is in the middle of a battle where at least four players have a legitimate shot at playing the Vikings' nickel defense. Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot are the clear starters at cornerback as the Vikings prepare to put on the pads Tuesday for the first time under Brad Childress. After that, the cornerback depth chart has names like Dovonte Edwards, Cedric Griffin, Ronyell Whitaker and Fox.

"It's a battle, man. No one knows. We're just coming out here every day and fighting and we'll see how it plays out," Fox said.

Whichever reserve cornerback wins a spot in the nickel defense, he will play outside and Winfield will slide inside to the nickel defender, where his strong tackling and blitzing ability can best be maximized.

But one of the most important aspects of the Tampa-2 defense is cornerbacks getting a good bump on wide receivers and trying to slow them down at the line of scrimmage. So when the Vikings put on pads today, that's when Fox hopes to shine.

"I'm looking forward (to the pads) because I consider myself more of a physical corner anyway. When you're running around in shorts, anyone can look good. Hopefully I can prove that I can be a physical defender," he said.

"We did quite a bit of (jamming the wide receiver at Ohio State). The defenses are actually very similar to here, but we did a little more Cover-3 and zone dogs (blitzing), but we do a lot of that here as well," Fox said. "This is kind of built around Cover-2. Our defense (at OSU) was kind of built around Cover-3 and zone dogs with Cover-2 and not a whole lot of man – just use man in situations where you needed to, short-yardage, goal line and things like that."

One thing Fox can compare to Ohio State is playing the cornerback position, and he seems downright excited to return to a position he knows better than any other.


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