Derek Cox has heard all of the talk about potential.
Cox, the Jaguars&39; third-year veteran cornerback, has heard how he is a big part of the future of the Jaguars&39; secondary, how he potentially could soon develop into an elite shut-down corner.
Cox has heard these things, and he said it&39;s more than talk. It&39;s what he wants, what he is capable of becoming.
Cox, the Jaguars&39; third-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, said hearing these things and knowing them isn&39;t enough. Work and focus – particularly in the off-season – is what leads to NFL improvement.
That, Cox said, is his priority now.
"I feel like my potential has not been fully reached," Cox told jaguars.com this week. "I know the player I&39;m going to become is around the corner, and it&39;s something I have to work toward. It won&39;t just come naturally."
Of being a shut-down corner, Cox&39;s reply was simple.
"That&39;s the bar I set for myself," he said.
It&39;s a goal toward which he has moved each of his first two seasons.
Cox, who played collegiately at William & Mary, started all 16 regular-season games as a rookie, leading the Jaguars with four interceptions and defensing seven passes. He also had 76 tackles.
And while he missed three games and five starts early in the 2010 season, he finished the season again leading the team in interceptions with four. He also led the team with nine passes defensed.
"I would definitely liked to have made more plays, so I didn&39;t hit my goals as far as making more plays, but as far as learning different things about myself, I felt like that was a big accomplishment my second year," Cox said. "I didn&39;t get to experience that my first year, because my first year was more adapting to a new environment."
It is common in the NFL to hear second-year players discuss a huge jump from their first season. The experience of a rookie season combines with maturity to make the first full off-season a critical, productive one.
Cox said his learning took one step beyond that, escalating this past season.
"Your second year, you know what to expect," Cox said. "There&39;s not as many uncertainties going into your second year, and all of those uncertainties that you have they can be stressers. That stress can take a toll on you mentally and physically.
"By you not having these question marks about &39;hitting the rookie wall&39; and not being familiar with the practice schedule, your learning curve slows down. All those questions are answered and you can transition into a better learning process.
"I feel like you learn more your second year than you do your first year. The more you play, that experience makes you grow."
Cox said having been through last year&39;s off-season has helped him prepare for the current one. He said this off-season he wants to continue to work on details, making more plays on the ball – and specifically, he said he wants to improve his footwork.
"By experiencing that first off-season after your rookie season, then going back into your team&39;s out-of-season training program, it gives you a gauge of how to structure things," Cox said. "I didn&39;t know how to structure my off-season.
"It&39;s going to be different for every person. Some guys may need more rest. Their body may be hurting a little more. For others, they may not be as banged up. What you do in the off-season is definitely unique to each person.
"By me experiencing the off-season, I knew I wanted to do more than I did last off-season."
Cox, who started the last 10 games of last season and had a career-high two interception game in a Halloween victory at Dallas, said his off-season process in a sense starts before the end of the regular season. It is then, he said, that "I strategically plan what I want to do and move toward what I want to accomplish."
As this past season wound to a close, Cox said his off-season goal was relatively clear, and involved continuing to turn potential into production, and turning the corner to become the player he and many others believe he can become.
"I&39;m thinking of different things I can do in terms of enhancing my ball skills," Cox said. "It&39;s all about refining and sharpening the tools you have and making them better so you can continue to develop and you can grow. . . .
"I definitely have the potential to do better and be greater than I am right now."