Derek Cox never really understood the label.
As Cox sees it, in the NFL a cornerback is a cornerback and if you can cover you can cover. So, to have a label other than that is something he never really grasped.
So, call Cox what you want, but if you're thinking he's a very good No. 2 corner and not a No. 1, just know that Cox sees things differently.
"I never step out on the field and say, 'I'm a No. 2 corner,''' Cox told jaguars.com recently. "When I step on the field, I'm going against other players on other teams who are threats, weapons. Nobody on that field is a slouch where you say, 'I don't have to be prepared for this guy.'''
Cox said that has been his approach for three NFL seasons.
Last season, the approach showed benefits.
Cox, a starter in each of his first two seasons, played just six games in 2011 while hampered with a variety of injuries, but when he played, he and many around the Jaguars said he played at perhaps the highest level of his three-season career.
"It's definitely a mindset you take," he said. "Your mindset is always fixated on playing the best you can play. I take that mindset year in and year out. Last year, I just felt I had grown so much from my second year, it was just like, 'OK, you're in the flow.' You know more about yourself and you're able to carry that onto the field.
"There aren't many question marks anymore. You're learning every day, but you know what to expect. When I know what to expect and I'm in a routine, that's when I operate most efficiently."
Cox last season in six games defensed 10 passes, and had at least one pass breakup in every game he played.
He also had 16 tackles, and along with Rashean Mathis helped give the Jaguars one of the league's most underrated cornerback tandems. The pair played at perhaps its highest level in three seasons together through much of the first half of the season, with Mathis' season ending with a torn anterior cruciate ligament coming at Indianapolis November 13 and Cox's ending with a less serious knee injury later that month.
"When you see how well we did, you do wonder what it would have been like to finish that out, and create that name around the league where people know, 'these corners are a force to be reckoned with,''' Cox said.
Cox, speaking this week at EverBank Field, said he expects to be ready to participate fully when the Jaguars open their off-season program next month. While his injury was categorized as a knee, he said it actually involved a bone just above the tibia and he said there was never long-term concern.
"I just had to stay off of it and let the bone heal up," said Cox, who said he is now doing more weight-bearing work and began running last week. "It healed up well. "I'm progressing just fine – right in line with where I want to be."
Cox said he not only is healthy physically, but mentally.
"You're always excited when you gain experience," he said. "Experience isn't something you go to sleep and wake up with, so having that experience of knowing yourself, knowing what you're capable of and knowing the flow of things – it's confidence-building.
"It gives you a foundation to know where you can head."
Cox said part of that foundation is staying healthy. He said injuries haven't been an overriding concern, and until missing 10 games last season he had missed just three games in three seasons, with two of the absences unrelated to injury early in 2010. Still, he said his focus this and any off-season is doing whatever is necessary to stay as healthy as possible.
"Every player spends as much time as possible doing whatever you can in regards to injury prevention," Cox said. "Whatever you can do on that front, you try to take care of that because you'd rather spend extra time doing that than spending a minute in rehab. I don't look at it and say, 'It's something I worry about.' "
And while there were observers who questioned his ability to stay healthy, Cox said that's of little concern, something he said is equally true of anyone who wonders if he can play No. 1 corner. With Mathis still early in the rehabilitation process, Cox is now the most experienced healthy cornerback on roster, but if that means moving into a slightly different role with a certain number attached to it, Cox said that doesn't worry him, either.
"I would ask somebody, 'What does it mean to be a two corner?''' Cox said. "What does it mean to be a one corner? I'm a corner and corner's job is to hold down receivers. I see it as you have a left corner and a right corner, not a one or a two. If I have to cross the ball and play the other side, I can do it. My mentality is, 'Give me the best guy – I can take him.'
"If you tell me, "That's their best guy – we want you to cover him,' I've been through that. If you're a corner, that's what your mentality has to be. If you're not mentally ready to cover the best guy on the field, as a corner, that's the wrong mindset."