Bryan Cox Jr. sat alone in a terminal at Gainesville Regional Airport with orange Beats by Dr. Dre headphones over his ears, separating him from the world around him. Just 48 hours before he would join his team in Knoxville, Cox had the unfortunate task of going to Atlanta to attend the funeral of his grandfather, Otis Williams.
Cox returned to the Florida Gators after the funeral and had a career day, finishing with five tackles and three sacks. It was a breakout performance in every sense of the word. Coming into the game Cox had seven career tackles and just two sacks, but Cox didn’t want to call the game against Tennessee a breakout performance, “Just because I feel like there’s more to come,” he told reporters.
The rest of the season was frustrating for the redshirt sophomore. Cox finished the 2014 season with 29 tackles and just four sacks — only recording one after the Tennessee game — as he worked in a backup role behind Jon Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr.
With Fowler gone this year, Florida needs to find a way to get to the quarterback, something that won’t be as easy as it has been in the past.
“Obviously, the big thing last year was that everybody was keying in on Dante, so all lines were sliding his way,” Cox said. “But now this year, since we don’t have Dante, it’s going to be a lot different because we don’t know how the offense is going to be.”
Cox hopes to come into his own this year, putting in the hard work in hopes that it meets opportunity. That hard work began with rehab; hip surgery set Cox back in the offseason and slowed him in the spring.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, honestly,” he said. “It’s took its toll on me, but it’s been good overall.”
Despite the minor setback, Cox appears to be turning the corner in his career and turning the heads of his teammates.
“Bryan Cox definitely stepped up his game. His pass rush has become way better,” defensive tackle Caleb Brantley said. “I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s just his effort, his hands. He became better with his hands. He’s just an all-around better player.”
Cox is back to full strength as he readies for this season. Jon Bullard may be Florida’s best defensive lineman right now, but Bullard has never been a big stat guy. He doesn’t put up big sack totals and as he moves from defensive end to tackle and back and forth, will draw doubles teams most of the season. That should open things up for Cox, who hopes to fill the void and add himself to the long list of scary defensive ends at Florida.
“I’m really just trying to be that guy. You know what I’m saying? Dante left, it’s just like everybody has their question marks about who’s going to do this, who’s going to do that.”