Coach Cox Leads The Linebackers

Aug. 19, 2009

by Michael Jeremiah

Mike Cox looks like the perfect fit for the Huskies at linebacker coach. He is energetic, even sitting in an armchair, when he talks about the players that are his charge for the 2009 season. The Huskies have a group of players at linebacker that the coaching staff believes can play at the next level. Cox's arrival in January of 2009 as the team's new linebackers coach gives them someone who knows what it takes to play there.

After his playing days as a linebacker at Idaho ended in 1986, Cox followed John L. Smith's staffs through tenures at Idaho, Utah, Louisville and Michigan State before separating from his longtime boss after the 2006 season. A career marked with experience on top college coaching staffs helped Cox to secure a spot on the defensive staff of the St. Louis Rams. In 2008, he was promoted to linebackers coach after a mid-season coaching change. Cox had the opportunity to coach NFL veterans Chris Draft and Will Witherspoon while with the Rams, and understands what separated successful veterans from the rest.

'Those guys are so good because they are mentally motivated and constantly self-motivated,' said Cox. 'I didn't need to yell at them, they wanted to get going. We have talented guys here. A lot of these guys have the ability to play that way; they just have to take that mentality of working hard when nobody's looking.'

The installation of that mentality will not fall on young ears. Youth in the linebacker corps over the last few seasons has turned into a bevy of experienced upperclassmen ready to make an impact.

Senior linebacker Donald Butler enters his final season at Washington with an increased role in leadership for a Husky defense looking to rebound in 2009. The expectations for Butler among the coaching staff are promising for an improved defense.

'I expect for him [Butler] to have a huge year,' said Cox. 'He had a good spring and he has all the tools to play all three spots. He has the ability and the make-up to go on and play at the next level.'

Butler should be the cornerstone of a strong group of linebackers, but even with high expectations individually, there are other players out there gunning for a starting spot.

Junior Mason Foster was one of the most improved players in spring ball according to Cox, and has the speed and experience to make a difference. In 2008, Foster led the team in tackles with 105 and is showing an aggressive style of play in spring practice.

E.J Savannah returns to the program this year, and hopes to recapture the playmaking abilities that made him one of the top players on the Husky defense in 2007. Trenton Tuiasosopo is back as a senior, and provides a physical toughness that every group of linebackers needs, according to Cox.

Four experienced players, all hungry to prove themselves as starters during fall camp creates the right atmosphere for Cox to get the best out of his unit.

'There's no day to slack off,' said Cox. 'If you slack off, you're going to get replaced. I don't have to raise my voice. I say, `that's fine, come on out and you jump in.' Then you just go on to the next guy. You can do that when you have competition within the group.'

From his time in the NFL, Cox understands it will be the players that show the determination to separate themselves from the group will be the performers on Saturdays in the fall. With a logjam at the top, there's only one way to describe the fall camp competition at linebacker.

'There all starters right now,' said Cox. 'Let's rip.'

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The Dawgs held their 11th practice of the fall season Wednesday morning. It was a helmets-only workout as, coming the day after a scrimmage and with another practice on tap tonight, it was relatively light.

UW athletics broadcast partner 950-KJR was out at the morning practice with Dave Mahler hosting his show. After practice, he welcomed defensive coordinator Nick Holt and linebacker Mason Foster. Tonight, during and after the Huskies' 6:45 full-pad practice, KJR will be back with Elise Woodward hosting her show. Tune in to hear Elise with head coach Steve Sarkisian following the workout.

We'll have more, including photos from tonight's practice, later on today.

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