Photo: Billy Napier and Cox Jr .; Credit: Alex Shepherd
Transferring from Georgia to Florida in 2019 before debuting at UF in 2020, Brenton Cox Jr. showed serious potential as a borderline-elite caliber edge rusher the Gators could lean on following the departure of Jonathan Greenard.
He was able to partly fill the large shoes by creating pressure on the quarterback – albeit infrequently compared to Greenard with just four sacks in 2020 – but failed to live up to the five-star billing he earned as a prospect coming out of high school.
But, in the early stages of 2022, he’s flipping the switch as he starts meeting his expectations and ridding himself of the fixable issues evident in his play over the last few seasons.
The Gators’ starting JACK edge rusher took the podium on Wednesday evening as part of the weekly media availabilities with head coach Billy Napier and select players. While answering questions, one central theme reigned supreme in his assessment of where he is and where he wants to go as a player this season.
What’s that theme? Hustle.
“I’m nowhere where I want to be,” he said when asked about his performance to begin the year. “I’m just out here trying to hustle, do whatever it takes for the team to win. So far, I got a lot of tackles.”
Accounting for 21 total tackles this season in three games (20 below his season total a year ago), Cox is proving his worth as a legitimate threat off the edge in Florida’s defense. In week one, it earned him honors as Co-SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
He’s picked up where he lacked in run support in the past, setting the edge more consistently and making plays from the backside in abundance.
While he’s yet to hit home on the quarterback this season to record a sack, his disruptiveness to command attention and create looks for his teammates is shining through to aid Florida in the pass-rushing department.
“No sacks, but I’m still working. Everybody on the team is working. We’ve got a common goal that we want at the end of the year, so we’re just trying to come to work every day, do what we can and be successful. “
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In the past, the knock on him was his propensity to take plays off when he wasn’t wreaking havoc in the opposing backfield on pass-rushing downs.
However, that is not the case this season, as he’s taken a team-oriented approach, as he stated on Wednesday. Cox credits outside linebackers coach Mike Peterson for holding him accountable in that area.
“Hustling,” he said about what Peterson’s unlocked in him. “That’s his biggest pet peeve. You gotta hustle. You can’t teach that. It’s gotta be in you. So him just teaching me the right way to do things on and off the field has been a great help for me.”
Playing in what is expected to be Cox’s final season in orange and blue before he attempts to jump to the NFL, the Georgia native is vocal about what he feels to be disrespect regarding his game from those evaluating talent for the next level.
Taking to Twitter on multiple occasions to show his production off the edge with video clips and descriptions, although he has since deleted the outbursts, Cox is set on proving he can be a valuable asset to a professional franchise next season. He’s making the needed adjustments under the tutelage of the former NFL linebacker he has for a coach – like the increased level of effort, efficiency in run support and setting his teammates up to make plays.
As a result, Cox is well on his way to realizing that goal while using the feeling of being overlooked as fuel.
“Yeah, most definitely it motivated me to come out and work extra hard. Going from being the top-rated guy to being overlooked, you know, that could be a humbling experience, but it just keeps me going every day.
“If they [are] good, they’ll see you; if you [are] good, they’ll see you. That’s how I look at it. I try to just take it one day at a time; leave out everything and just keep working. “
He’ll look to continue progressing and rekindle the fire he had at the end of last season in getting to the passer – stacking up four sacks in the regular season finale of 2021 against Florida State – as the year rolls along.
If he can remain steadfast in his newfound approach, Cox has the talent to ascend his rank in the eyes of NFL executives at the next level and establish Florida’s defense in year one under coordinator Patrick Toney.
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