JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox has been in the starting lineup, on the bench and on the inactive list this season.
He handled the demotion and the promotion the same way: With little reaction and even less emotion.
His subdued responses are part of his laid-back personality. But he doesn't want anyone mistaking them for a lack of passion or enthusiasm.
"Football is what I do. It doesn't define me," Cox said. "I shouldn't define any of these guys in here. If you look at the grand scheme of it, a football career, that's a smidgen of your life. Even the guys that play double-digit years, it's a smidgen of their lifetime and their life span. While I'm doing it, I give it my all. My passion is there and desire will always remain."
Cox was benched during the season opener, pulled after giving up a long reception, and played just one snap the next three games. The second-year pro, a third-round draft pick who started every game as a rookie in 2009, returned to the rotation last week against Buffalo and played one of his best games.
Cox finished with five tackles and a pass defense.
He believes taking a step back helped him move forward. He's expected to return to the starting lineup Monday night when the Jaguars (3-2) host AFC South rival Tennessee (3-2).
"There's a pretty strong likelihood that he reclaimed his position with that effort," coach Jack Del Rio said. "He played well in his role, so that was good to see."
Del Rio gave little insight into Cox's benching, saying only that the former William & Mary standout needed to "clear his head."
Fellow cornerback Rashean Mathis agreed, saying Cox tends to think too much on and off the field.
"He's a thinker," Mathis said. "I tell him that all the time. Whether it's with food or a book he's reading, he's a huge thinker. It helps you in some aspects of life. But in others, you can think a little bit too much. He's young. He just has to learn how to separate the two."
Cox, who led the Jaguars with four interceptions last season, had no explanation for the way his season unfolded. While playing through a foot injury, Cox struggled in coverage during training camp and the preseason. The Jaguars figured it would pass, but Cox got burned several times in the opener against Denver.
Cox tried not to let it get to him.
"You gotta keep an even keel," he said. "Can't get too high, can't get too low. Getting too high on emotions, that can be good, but it can also play against you some. It was always in the rearview mirror for me. From one day to the next, you can't look back on it. It's tough not to do. I'm sure people try to force themselves not to look back."
It helped that Cox had other things going on.
He started taking piano lessons, read "Freakonomics" and even stayed away from the training facility on his off days even though he probably could have used extra work.
"I took some time to decompress, do things that kind of just took my mind away from ball," he said. "Things gotta be put into perspective."
That kind of reaction is far from conventional in the NFL. But it was typical for Cox, who took his benching in stride.
"He kept his head up," Mathis said. "It was tough for him. He's young, but has a good head on his shoulders. He took it well. He still competed. He still asked questions. He still wanted to do things the right way. I think that's why when his number was called in the game, he was able to respond."