Football's Cox switches from cornerback to safety
A long-awaited fire ignited in senior cornerback Josh Cox as he took the field for the first time this season.
As the season opener against Rhode Island got underway and the Central Michigan defense came out at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Cox didn’t line up at his usual spot at cornerback, but instead settled in behind his teammates at safety.
The third team All-Mid-American Conference corner from a year ago was lining up at a new position for the first time at CMU, however, safety is a position that Cox is more than familiar with.
“I’m real comfortable at safety, that’s what I’ve been playing my whole life,” Cox said. “The coaches asked me to move over there and I did. I was happy to go back to my old spot.”
Cox, who played safety in high school, was back at his natural position and put on a show against the Rams last Thursday.
Cox led an inspired defensive effort with eight tackles, two interceptions and a pass breakup.
The 197-pound defensive back flew around the field delivering big hits and blowing up plays before they had a chance to begin.
In between plays, Cox glowed with confidence as he jumped up and down and waved his arms to pump up his teammates. The usually modest Cox was in a zone he had not felt in some time — and he fully embraced it.
“Any game where they try and go at me right off the gate, I get confidence play after play,” he said. “Once I make those couple plays, I feel like I’m just riding the wave.”
The Warren native grew up playing safety and was named to the All-Catholic and All-Macomb County teams as a senior at De La Salle Collegiate High School in 2012. Cox was recruited as a safety by former head coach Dan Enos, but switched to corner after his redshirt in 2013 to fit a team need.
The transition was difficult, but he increased his role each year and was a starter in the last two seasons.
Last year, Cox ranked fifth on the team with 54 tackles and proved he could handle a larger role in his senior year.
With the departure of safeties Tony Annese and Winslow Chapman to graduation this offseason, defensive coordinator Greg Colby looked to Cox to fill the void.
“The other guys were relatively inexperienced so we felt it was important to have a guy back there that could do it,” Colby said. “He’s a whiley veteran. He knows what he sees and knows how to react to it. He’s a coach on the field and he played like that in the first game.”
Sophomore Sean Bunting is filling in for Cox at cornerback. He played in every game last season and had two interceptions. Bunting’s early impression made the decision to move Cox an easier one and he will benefit from having All-MAC First Team cornerback Amari Coleman across from him.
Bunting said Cox is a big aid at safety because he can help the younger players in front of him and has a knack for predicting plays.
“It definitely eases everything," Bunting said. "Josh is an excellent player. His mind is crazy because he knows everything before it happens. He always gives me a heads up and just makes everything easier for me as a player. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Cox’s knowledge and instincts for the game make him an asset to play just about anywhere on defense. During CMU’s victory over Rhode Island, he lined up at linebacker and nickelback — on passing downs — in addition to both safety spots.
Cox said he likes safety because, unlike cornerback, teams can’t stay away from his side of the field and can’t game plan around him.
“At safety, you can’t stay away from me the whole game, I’ll always be there to make a play,” he said. “At corner, you can avoid me if you try. If I do my film study, there’s no way a team can plan to stay away from me the whole game.”
While Cox is on pace to break his interception total from last season and remain a factor in the passing game, the biggest advantage is his mind is being able to play up in the box. The fifth-year senior had a career-high 54 tackles last season and has told the linebackers to watch out this year.
“I told Malik (Fountain) he better get his tackles up because he’s going to be chasing me all year,” Cox said. “The competition between me and all the linebackers is high. At the end of the year, if I end up getting more than them, best believe they’re going to hear about it.”
Cox will wear the No. 21 Derrick Nash legacy jersey this Saturday when the Chippewas take on Kansas at 4 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.