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Cox fits Bengals formula drafted or undrafted

Posted Aug 17, 2017

The media went gaga over first-round pick John Ross staying after practice to throw with quarterback Andy Dalton during training camp and with good reason. That’s a lot of star power putting in some overtime in an offensive league. But what if a rookie defensive player did it? Better yet, what if a rookie safety did it? Better still, what if an undrafted rookie safety did it?


The media went gaga over first-round pick John Ross staying after practice to throw with quarterback Andy Dalton during training camp and with good reason. That’s a lot of star power putting in some overtime in an offensive league.

But what if a rookie defensive player did it? Better yet, what if a rookie safety did it? Better still, what if an undrafted rookie safety did it?

As Michigan State’s Demetrious Cox went through some backpedals and breaks earlier this week, he cut a lonely figure. It was after the first practice after his first NFL game and even though he came up with the Bengals’ only turnover in Friday night’s win over Tampa Bay, here he was. No cameras or mikes. Just a lone scribe watching him finish in a puddle of sweat.

“Getting out of breaks is the most important thing for a DB,” Cox said. “I stay after as much as I can. I’m just trying to get more fluid, better at getting in and out of breaks.”

The 6-0, 200-pound Cox comes out of the shadows Saturday night (7 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 12) in the Bengals’ second pre-season game against the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium. With three safeties potentially out, Cox is going to get plenty of snaps in his uphill climb to become the fourth safety on a team with four veteran safeties.

But he’s very much on the prowl. And if you’re looking for the prototypical undrafted or drafted prospect favored by the Duke Tobin-Marvin Lewis regime, look no further than Cox.

“We tell the guys it doesn’t necessarily matter how you got here, but take advantage of your opportunities,” said Lewis, who has noticed Cox is in the right spot most of the time. “With the injuries we’ve had at safety, he’s been able to get more reps and more opportunities, which make you more and more comfortable about what you are doing. He’s got to feel good about what he’s been doing.”

- Used to big-time competition? Check. (Head coach Mark Dantonio’s program in East Lansing has been one of the best in the last decade. And don’t forget a highly competitive prep career in Pennsylvania’s famed WPIAL, where he was Class AA Player of the Year for Jeannette High School in football-mad Pittsburgh.  

- Experienced? Check. (He spent five years at Michigan State and played in 51 games with 25 starts.)

- Versatile? Check. (He started 14 games at safety and nine at cornerback while also playing slot corner. And he scored 1,000 career points for Jeannette basketball.)

- Productive? Check. (166 tackles, four picks, 5.5 tackles for loss, 14 pass breakups.)

- Leadership and smarts? Check. (A Spartans captain as a senior.)

On Saturday Cox figures to get some of the snaps five-year starting safety George Iloka won't get as he rests his knee.  

Secondary coach Robert Livingston, who was a scout for the Bengals in 2014 when they selected Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard in the first round, knows what they’re getting out of East Lansing.

“The positon coaches there are great,” Livingston said. “They’ve got great technique. They know the game. They know how to study. He came in with a good background in the game itself and he’s not afraid to put in the work.”

So the Bengals scout the coaches, too, and Cox’s college position coach is well known across the country, particularly in Cincinnati. Spartans secondary coach Harlon Barnett, who doubles as Dantonio’s associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator, became one of Cincinnati’s greatest prep players at Princeton High School before moving to Michigan State and then to seven years in the NFL with three teams.

Barnett, a fourth-round pick of Cleveland in 1990, broke in at safety with veteran cornerback Frank Minnifield and safety Felix Wright and their mentoring influenced his coaching style.

“Those guys took care of me. They really showed me how it was done,” Barnett said. “That’s how we do it. We try to help each other. The older guys help the younger guys. When (Cox) got here in 2012, there were some good guys already here.”

Good? Barnett had the All-American trio of Dennard, Trae Waynes, and Kris Drummond.

“We had had some success and he learned from those guys,” Barnett said. “And he listened. He already had the athletic ability.”

Under Barnett, the Spartans DBs keep coming. Seven have been drafted, including two first-rounders (Dennard and Waynes), and 10 have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. In 2015, Michigan State became just the sixth school to have cornerbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in consecutive years, joining Alabama (2012-13), LSU (2011-12), Miami-Florida (2005-06), Ohio State (1999-2001) and Notre Dame (1993-94).

“He played for a big program, so this isn’t too big for him,” Livingston said. “He played multiple spots, he’s bright-eyed, he’s attentive. The best thing about him is if he makes a mistake, he doesn’t make it again.”

Just like on the interception against the Bucs, where he plucked himself and the ball off the ground for a 37-yard return. On the play before he couldn’t catch a tipped ball.

“Straight zone,” Livingston said. “First pre-season game. Pretty vanilla. Read the quarterback. He’s probably been doing that since middle school.”

And the guy who has been watching him since middle school got the ball.

“I gave it to my dad,” Cox said. “We’ve got a case for all that memorabilia. He was up here for the game, so I gave it to him.”

We said smart, too, right?

 

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