DAVID WHITLEY

Brenton Cox Jr. back on Florida Gators defense ready to work and with sack record in mind

David Whitley
Gator Sports

You’ve probably heard that the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. If that’s the case, Florida football fans had to like what they heard from Brenton Cox Jr. this week.

“I can honestly say I took a couple of plays off,” he said.

Call it “taking plays off,” call it “pacing yourself,” or call it “gold bricking.” By any name, it might be the last thing a player wants to be accused of.

Nobody out-and-out labeled Cox a loafer last season, but he heard the whispers. Some games, he dominated like Lawrence Taylor. Others, he played more like Elizabeth Taylor.

“I’ll do better this year,” Cox said after a practice.

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'He has all the skills'

Consider it the next step in his rehab. If the process is successful, it could make Billy Napier’s first year in the SEC meat grinder a bit less daunting.

Cox can be as good as he wants to be. He was a 5-star Georgia recruit, started the Sugar Bowl as a freshman for the Bulldogs, transferred to Florida and has been a fixture on defense the past two years.

“He has all the skills,” said UF linebacker coach Mike Peterson.

Outside linebackers/defensive ends are supposed to be disruptors, and Cox had 14.5 tackles for losses in 2021. He had 8.5 sacks and the confidence of a man who wears jersey No. 1.

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Before last year’s Alabama game, Cox was asked if the Gators were ready.

“We’re ready, of course,” he said. “The big question is are they ready for us?”

“I always had confidence,” Cox said. “Just coming off the edge so much, you feel like nobody can stop you.”

Nobody except himself.

Cox was the best player on the field at the end of the season. He had four sacks against FSU and four tackles for losses in the Gasparilla Bowl.

He also had games where he got lost in Todd Grantham’s woodwork, or whatever passed for a defensive scheme against LSU and South Carolina and Samford.

Gators outside linebackers Brenton Cox Jr. (1) and Antwaun Powell (52) run a drill during spring practice at the University of Florida in Gainesville, on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Cox had offseason surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. He never fully recovered and essentially played on one-and-a-half good feet.

That would be a pretty good excuse for the inconsistent play. Cox is no longer buying it.

“It’s all want-to. It’s all need-to,” he said. “You’re going to fight through a lot of stuff. I’m not the only one out there fighting. I shouldn’t be the only one not running to the ball.

“It’s all good. It’s a learning experience.”

That’s where Peterson comes in. Napier hired him off South Carolina’s staff, though Florida fans know him as an All-American linebacker from the Spurrier Era.

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In his college career and 14 seasons in the pros, nobody accused Peterson of taking any plays off. A good gauge of hustle is the television, he told his prized pupil.

When the ball carrier is run down, are you on the screen?

“He’s been preaching to me that if you’re not at the TV box by the time the play is over, then it’s a loaf,” Cox said. “You’re not running to the ball.”

Coaches notice such things. So do NFL scouts.

Brenton Cox Jr. wants to break the sack record

Gasparilla Bowl: UCF quarterback Mikey Keene is sacked by Florida linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. in the fist half at Raymond James Stadium.

Cox considered declaring for the draft, but he was rated a second-day prospect. Third or fourth rounder.

“I feel like I was better, and I can do more,” Cox said. “That’s why I decided to come back.”

That, and the number 13.

That’s how many sacks Alex Brown had when he set the school record in 1999. Cox declared that breaking it is his goal for 2022.

Actually, he’d like to smash the record. Cox thinks he can get 1.5 sacks a game. That’d certainly be disruptive, though there’s more to the job than blind-siding quarterbacks.

There’s stopping the run, occasionally dropping into coverage and setting a tone that was largely missing in 2021.

“I’m here to show it all,” Cox said.

That will all come down to want-to. Will Cox bring it every play?

Check your TV this fall.

If No. 1 is on the screen when the play ends, you’ll have your answer.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley