Mike Cox hit the practice field on Saturday a little earlier than usual. One of the few players on the field before the 3:30 p.m. practice began, the fullback was catching passes.
Cox wasn't out there because of the recent injury to Bradie Ewing, the fullback from Wisconsin the team drafted in the fifth round this year to presumably replace Cox, who replaced long-time starter Ovie Mughelli once he was lost for the season. Ewing's knee injury against the Ravens will knock him out for the season.
One of the intriguing aspects of Ewing's game is his ability to catch passes, something fullbacks aren't exactly known for. Cox wasn't out there suddenly working on an aspect of his game that he was worried about. It's just 13 days into camp and he's making sure he's ready to play one of the most physical positions in football.
"Just trying to get into a better routine, coming out earlier," Cox said Saturday. "It's getting later in camp and it's a little harder to get the body going and get a good routine."
Cox said he's sneaky good at pass catching, something many believe will be a valuable skill for anyone playing offense for the Falcons this season. He went as far as to say he was the best pass catcher in college at Georgia Tech … with one exception.
"You can go back and ask my college teammates," he said. "They always said I had the best hands on the team other than (current Detroit Lions Pro Bowl WR) Calvin Johnson. That's my game, it's deception. I will be deceiving and if you throw it over to me, I will catch it."
Cox has been working with the first-team offense throughout camp and got the start against the Ravens in the first week of the preseason. Camp observers expected Ewing to make a charge at Cox eventually, but Cox said last year's experience of joining the Falcons during the season was invaluable in helping him prepare for this season.
Additionally, Cox said the offense through the fullback's eyes hasn't changed that much, leaving him with few adjustments to make.
"It's very similar to last year, they kept a lot of stuff the same," he said. "I was real interested to see what it was going to be like for the first game. I got a good amount of plays in there. It was very similar to last year, doing the same stuff, blocking, catching balls in the flats and picking up protections."
The loss of a teammate is never pleasant, despite the heated competitions players sometimes find themselves in. Ewing's loss in theory takes some pressure off Cox, but the fullback doesn't see it that way. He believes Ewing made him better and he embraces the new challenge he'll get from recently-signed Lousaka Polite as well as Lee Meisner, a fullback already on the roster.
"The competition with Bradie was healthy for me," he said. "We were pushing each other and both getting better. It's a tough break, but now I just have to work that much harder to continue to push myself. We signed Lousaka Polite who is a veteran and someone I've looked up to. I have to stay on top of my game even more because he's a seasoned veteran fullback. I just have to stay on my game."