Gators' Brenton Cox hopes to be fully healed by midseason

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun

Florida defensive lineman Brenton Cox Jr. has been noticeably absent throughout significant periods of the Gators’ two contests this season, and it’s not without good reason. 

Cox played through a Jones fracture in his left foot in 2020, resulting in surgery and a recovery plan that has stretched into the current season. Jones fracture is a fracture of the bone on the pinky toe side of your foot, the fifth metatarsal bone.

Although he’s seen the field in the first half against both Florida Atlantic and South Florida, Cox admits he may not be fully healthy for several weeks, if not longer, though he’ll continue to persevere through his ailment in the interim.

“It’s doing all right,” said Cox. “Trying not to think about the pain, trying to keep going, keep pushing through each game and hopefully by the middle of the season I’ll be back to 100 percent.” 

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Through two games, Cox has just a pair of tackles, putting him well off pace of matching his total from last season, when the redshirt junior from Stockbridge, Georgia, registered 42 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks while seeing action in all 12 games. 

His production had many predicting a breakout season was in store, and that naturally acclaim for Cox would follow. When the 2021 Preseason Coaches All-SEC football team was revealed to the public Aug. 24, however, Cox was nowhere to be seen. 

It was the very definition of adding insult to injury. 

“Yeah, that hurts. You work so hard every day, and just being left off like that, it hurt,” Cox said. “But at the end of the day I can only move forward, can’t think of the past, and that was only preseason. I’m waiting on the postseason coming up.” 

Cox’s omittance on the preseason list may be attributed to the concerns over his availability this season; at the end of Spring camp, the rumor mill began to churn, and reports from outside of Gainesville prematurely — and falsely — implied Cox could miss the entirety of the 2021 season. 

The former Georgia transfer admits he channeled the slight into fuel for his ongoing recovery. 

“With me coming off my injuries and having surgery so early into the (off)season, it put a chip on my shoulder to just go out here and let go, because nobody ever gave me any (awards) — Preseason, All-American or anything like that,” Cox said. “I never was given anything, so it just told me to go out there and work, made me feel like I had to work harder, that’s all.” 

To make the year-end lists, Cox undoubtedly will have to play far more snaps than he has to begin the season, yet it’s no secret the Gators intended to rest the majority of the team’s starters against both the Owls and Bulls. 

Even if Cox weren’t currently aching, he would have been sidelined in the second half as the Gators looked to give less-accomplished players an opportunity to gain valuable in-game experience, said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. 

Though Grantham did make sure to praise Cox for his play when the defensive lineman did see the field for the Gators. 

“He’s graded out a winner the last two games. He’s done a good job of setting the edge in the run game. If you go back and look at some of the rushes, he’s had some good rushes. You have a choice to make as a quarterback: do I take this sack or this hit, or do I get rid of this ball pretty quickly. So some of those incompletions and things that have happened have been the product of Brenton with his pass rush. Those things will come,” Grantham said. “He didn’t play the second half (against USF), and he honestly didn’t play in the first game I think past the second series. It’s like I said, we have some other guys there at that position that you would like to develop and get ready for when you need ‘em.”

Grantham added Cox continues to make plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet, and avoiding setbacks when it comes to his health is a priority for the Florida defense. 

“It’s a long season, so try to take some hits off of him,” Grantham said of Cox. “I think the guy’s working his tail off, and I think as he moves forward through the season we’re going to see the kind of play you’re expecting.”

If there was any concern, Cox doesn’t think his ailment and in-progress recuperation will hinder the Gators when it comes to the team’s chances of taking down the Crimson Tide, and any notion it will is like like the preseason award lists T— the disrespect won’t have its intended effect.

“Yeah, we’re ready. Of course, we ready,” Cox said. “Big question is: are they ready?”