Eagles’ All-Pro Tweaking Routine, Promises ‘Five More Sacks’

Getty Fletcher Cox of the Philadelphia Eagles

Fletcher Cox has been selected to four All-Pro teams and five Pro Bowls. He is widely regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in football. That doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.

Cox, the 12th overall pick in 2012, has accumulated 48 career sacks and 367 tackles (62 for loss) as he heads into his ninth NFL season. It would stand to reason that he knows everything about everything, and training camp is just another formality before the real games start.

Well, that would be a severe oversight. Cox is a consummate professional and he was in the film room at the NovaCare Complex the other day tracking his mistakes and how to best fix them. He feels like he left “three or four or five” sacks out on the field in 2019.

“I just want to get better at everything,” Cox told reporters on Wednesday. “I feel like if I can at some point get out off a block, there are probably three or four or five more sacks out there for me. So it’s just small things like that … if you look at it on tape, it’s like, ‘Man if I would have gotten off that [block] a second sooner, that’s a sack.’ It’s just little things like that that I’ve been pointing out.”

The 29-year-old was named to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team last April. He’s on a short list of elite defensive tackles, with Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and Geno Atkins. However, Cox registered the second-lowest sack total of his career in 2019 (3.5).

Is he finally starting to show his age? Or were his numbers down due to a nagging toe injury?

He played in all 16 regular-season games last year while dealing with a toe injury related to offseason foot surgery. He was often seen off on a side field at last year’s training camp, away from the rest of the team as he slowly nursed himself back to health. Those days are over.

“I was able to go back to my normal workouts [this offseason],” Cox told reporters. “My toe is feeling really good, no setbacks. I was able to go back to my normal routine … offseason workouts, where I take the steps that I normally take when I was healthy and now I am healthy so everything is good to go. Camp is only two weeks but I’ll be able to participate in everything and not be on the sideline working out.”

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Eagles Banking on Strong Rotation at Defensive Tackle

They’ll need his numbers to increase, too. The Eagles opted against bringing in an established edge rusher, like Yannick Ngakoue or Everson Griffen, in favor of letting their deep and dangerous defensive line bring the heat.

Malik Jackson (32.5 career sacks) returns from a season-ending foot injury after playing in just one game in 2019. They also made Javon Hargrave (14.5 career sacks) the highest-paid nose tackle in football in the offseason. Add Hassan Ridgeway (6.5 career sacks) to the mix and the Eagles are banking on a menacing rotation of fresh bodies at defensive tackle.

“I think it’s a really good thing, especially to have all those guys back,” Cox said. “You know with Malik [Jackson] and Jay [Hargrave] coming in … I’m really looking forward to it, man — and to see what those guys can contribute, it’ll be a really good rotation, whatever we decide to do, and I’m just excited for those guys.”

Of course, the defensive line will have to make some major adjustments on the fly. First, the group will need to overcome an abbreviated training camp due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then it’ll have to adapt to a brand new defensive line coach, in Matt Burke, and integrating Hargrave who played for the Steelers in 2019.

That’s a lot of turnover but Cox is confident. He compared it to the transition the team had to make when Timmy Jernigan first came over from Baltimore in 2017.

“I think the main thing for him [Hargrave] is just going out and playing fast,” Cox said. “Learning the defense which he’s doing a really good job at, catching onto the things that we do and the realest thing is, just going out and getting the repetition with him. I think it’s going to take a lot of repetition for me and him to get on the same page.”

Cox Never Thought About Opting Out for 2020 Season

While some players have given long and candid thought to opting out for the 2020 season, the idea never crossed Cox’s mind. He loves the game too much and adheres to all the proper safety protocols to protect himself from the novel coronavirus.

“I knew I was playing,” Cox said. “I love this game so much and I knew that from talking to guys around this organization and just feeling safe was the biggest thing and here [at the NovaCare Complex] I feel safe. I knew I was going to play, and I’m excited about going into my ninth year so I’m excited and ready to roll.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by many of Cox’s teammates. The Eagles have gone above and beyond in making their players feel safe at the practice facility. Coaches have been actively enforcing social distancing, including making players wear protective masks in the meeting rooms.

When head coach Doug Pederson tested positive for COVID-19, he doubled down on how safe he felt inside the building and revealed he contracted the virus away from the facility.

“I feel like this building right here is probably safer than any other place in the city,” Cox said. “I think that Mr. Lurie [owner Jeffery Lurie] and this organization did a really good job of making sure the players are safe and I feel really safe here.”

What’s the hardest part been for Cox? Keeping that annoying mask on.

“I’d say the hardest thing to adapt to is having a mask on,” Cox said, “At the moment you walk into the building and having to keep that mask on during meetings and just doing all the process … talking to your teammates and keeping that mask on … in the weight room, just walking around the halls.”

For the record, Cox is doing it. Willingly and proudly. That stupid mask might be this year’s new 12th man.

“You just have to let the younger players know that at the end of the day we all have to make the right decision and that is to be safe, to keep each other safe,” Cox said. “It’s not just a one-man sport, there are 10 other people on the field with you.”

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