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Why LSU Football Linebacker Jabril Cox is the Key to Defensive Success in 2020

An inside look at the qualities Cox brings to the LSU defense in 2020

With LSU moving back to the 4-3, Jabril Cox could be the impact player the Tigers’ defense needs.

The transfer out of North Dakota State University, Cox presents a unique situation for LSU. He’s a speedy linebacker built to play in the 4-3 defense LSU coach Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini want to implement. Let’s take a closer look at what LSU is getting, beginning with his prior institution.

Per the NDSU athletic website, Cox was credited with 92 total tackles and five and half sacks in 2019. The Bison finished 16-0 and won the FCS national title. It was the eighth title for North Dakota State in nine years. Cox was a big reason why.

Playing weak side linebacker, Cox was consistently able to use his lateral quickness and ability to change direction to make plays in space. That’s what he does best. Fitting, considering the spread football era presents a need for dynamic athletes at linebacker to make plays versus smaller and quicker offensive skill position players.

What does Cox do best? That’s simple. Run. More precisely, run very fast. He’s not a down hill, in the box, Mike Singletary middle linebacker, mind you. Cox, at his best, plays outside the tackle box. He will be best when teams go three, four and five wide.

Here are some thoughts about Cox’s strengths, as well as areas for him to make strides.

Cox in Coverage

It’s rare to find a linebacker that’s capable of lining up on the edge and rushing the passer with efficiency, as well as playing in space against a 170-pound slot wide receiver and being just as impactful. That’s Cox as he’s going to be a weapon when LSU places him in space.

He’s a natural at placing his foot in the ground and changing direction with just that one step. Literally, just one step and go. Most athletes cannot do that, even at the highest levels of sport. It’s a God-given ability, and Cox uses it to not only close on potential receivers during traditional routes, but also to close ground on the wide variety of wide receiver screens that every program in America utilizes in some way shape or form.

Cox provides a natural instinct to know when to go after the receiver. There’s a bit of a cat and mouse game that a linebacker needs to play when moving towards the player in his zone or the man he’s covering one on one.

From watching Cox at North Dakota State, he really waits until the last moment, but then explodes towards the intended receiver. It’s a good bet that Cox intercepts a few passes this fall. He possesses the speed and anticipation that few quarterbacks have seen. It will pay dividends for LSU this fall.

Spying the Quarterback

When the Tigers face a mobile quarterback, like Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, it’s a good bet that Cox will be a part of the rotating package of linebackers to keep an eye on the signal caller.

Cox played this role for the Bison prior to coming to LSU. Therefore, it’s nothing new for him. It’s an important trait, nonetheless. When LSU was gashed by Ole Miss and running quarterback John Rhys Plumlee last fall, a linebacker like Cox could have been a good player to chase down the swift quarterback.

While Ole Miss did a great job with its scheme and kept the LSU defense on its heels, sometimes it’s just an athletic play that’s needed. That’s also where Cox comes into the scenario of watching the quarterbacks this fall.

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That one time Cox shoots a gap and makes a big tackle for loss during a third and short, presents the opportunity to go after the quarterback when he’s being spied on by Cox and decides to take off and run. Bad idea. Cox is bigger and faster than just about every quarterback he will face.

Look for Cox to really alter how opposing offensive coordinators call plays, especially when it comes to utilizing the quarterback designed runs and option plays. Cox will shut many of those plays down because he’s just too fast for most offensive linemen to get their hands on him.

Blitzing

Cox recorded a decent amount of sacks last fall despite not being a true edge rusher. With all of the talent surrounding him this fall, many teams will leave him with but one blocker. That’s hard enough when going up against a great athlete, but also consider that Cox will oftentimes be coming off the edge with a full head of steam to make a play.

Cox will also be a part of stunts and combination blitzes, further enhancing his great skill set. If Cox finished with five or more sacks this season, it would not be a surprise. Pelini likes to be aggressive. Expect Pelini to turn Cox loose in a variety of ways. Now for two areas to improve while playing for LSU.

Be More Physical

Cox needs to initiate the contact more often that he did in the past. Far too often he would run around a pile instead of finding a small crease and shooting through while using a club move on an unsuspecting offensive lineman in the process.

All those bag drills that linebackers go through is for a reason. Cox out ran most players at the FCS level, but that’s not going to happen on every play at the SEC level. Cox must learn to enjoy contact, then use his speed.

More Technique

It’s always going to be a huge part of the game of football. Linebackers that understand how to disengage from offensive linemen will be the ones that make the most tackles. Pretty simple.

Cox had a bad habit of getting engaged with a blocker and not using counter moves after locking up with the blocker. That’s an absolute no no at the high school level, let alone college football. It was not all the time, but it will get a linebacker destroyed in the SEC.

Cox absolutely must use his hands more consistently if he’s going to defeat blockers at this level. With that in mind, Cox could be one of the leading tacklers for the Tigers this year.

Final Thoughts

Cox makes plays. That’s the theme. His speed, quickness and innate ability to read the quarterback while playing in space are fantastic. He’s going to be a big-time player against true spread passing attacks.

When teams line up and go right at LSU, that’s when Cox needs to be prepared and ready to accept the challenge of block destruction. He’s talented enough to do just that, and if he does, look for Cox to finish in the top three on the LSU defense in tackles.