DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys' starting linebacking corps is stacked, and that is putting it generously.
Although the Cowboys technically run a 4-3 front, their base defense is more of a nickel formation with four down linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. The two linebacker spots are already accounted for in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, two Pro Bowlers.
Throw in 2021 first-round pick Micah Parsons, taken No. 12 overall in Thursday night’s first round, and there is hardly any room for fourth-rounder Jabril Cox to make an impact on defense.
“I know Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith and Micah Parsons," Cox told reporters on a conference call after his selection at No. 115 overall in Round 4 of the 2021 NFL Draft on Saturday. "Micah was drafted in the first round, but those are three elite athletes."
Cox will try to bring competition to the position, and coach Mike McCarthy welcomes it.
"Every year you have to take a hard look, and you either have to make changes, adjustments and emphasize and expand on what you’ve accomplished," McCarthy told reporters on April 30 after Day 2 of the NFL Draft. "This is part of the change. This is clearly part of the change and the advancement of how we want to look as a football team, how we want to play as a football team, and not only that — we want competition all the way through our building."
If Cox can't win the competition for playing time, there is still another way he is prepared to make an impact for the Cowboys. Football is a three-phase game, and Cox can contribute significantly on special teams if that is the only place he can find playing time in his rookie year.
"Special teams is what I started off at," Cox said. "That’s how I got my first play on the field in college. I’ve always been used to special teams. I’ve always played it throughout, even when I became a starter. Special teams is nothing new to me, and I really take pride in that. I thrive off making plays there because I can really change the whole game in special teams. Being able to make an impact in that is something I really love.”
His favorite special teams play comes from his time at North Dakota State in 2017 when he collected six special teams tackles as a redshirt freshman.
"Just going down there each time and making those tackles is something that I’ll always remember," said Cox. "With it being one of my first times on the field, it was very great.”
Cox spoke with the Cowboys' coaching staff and front office during his pre-draft process, meeting with them virtually. One of the coaches he met was Special Teams Coach John Fassel.
Although Cox impressed in his lone season at LSU as a graduate transfer, with 58 combined tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, three interceptions, a fumble recovery, and five pass breakups, he can still hearken back to his time as a special teamer to help the Cowboys improve from a 6-10 record in 2020.
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