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Gators Bryan Cox Jr. getting noticed at Shrine Game practices

Roy Cummings

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Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire
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ST. PETERSBURG – First impressions are always important. Especially when you’re on a job interview.

It’s safe to say that former Gators defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. has made a good first impression on the prospective employers who have spent the week watching him work at the East West Shrine Game practices.

“That kid’s a boy dog,’’ Arizona Cardinals defensive line coach and East team head coach Brentson Buckner said of Cox. “What I mean by that is, he’s got a mean streak in him, and you can’t teach that.

“You can teach a kid all the technique you want and make all the adjustments to his game but when he puts that helmet on he’s got bad intentions for the guy across from him and that’s great.’’

Cox comes across his mean streak naturally. His father was known for his mean streak during a 12-year NFL playing career in which he played in three Pro Bowls and was named All Pro three times.

The elder Cox also won a Super Bowl as a member of the 2001 New England Patriots and he could be on the cusp of winning another in his current capacity as the defensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons.

This then is a big week for the Cox family. Much is at stake for both father and son, the latter of which has more to prove than his ability to play tough.

His senior season at Florida was hampered by thumb, hand and at the end, ankle injuries. So proving he’s past those issues and capable of helping an NFL team immediately, is a big part of Cox Jr.’s weekend goal.

“I really just want to show these scouts here that I’m healthy and what I’m capable of doing when I’m healthy,’’ Cox said. “I mean, I believe I’m here for a reason, and that I’ve earned my way here.’’

There’s no denying that. Cox was one of the more productive run-stopping ends in the SEC during his time at Florida, where he racked up 20.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles across 35 career games.

He also recorded 10 sacks during his Gators career, so there should be room on an NFL roster somewhere for him as a left end or a rotational run stopper on the inside. After all, he’s got his father’s mean streak.

“He’s definitely got the pedigree, and that’s good,’’ Buckner said. “But the thing that’s been most impressive is that he’s willing to work anywhere along the defensive line.

“We asked him the other day, ‘Let’s go work at three technique and sew how you look there,’ and he said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ You like to see that in a young man, so he’s made a good impression here for sure.’’

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

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Florida Gators

Gators strong finish Saturday keeps them atop our rankings

Jamil King

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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The college football regular season came to an end last week. For some, it was great, and for others, it was horrible. The Gators and UCF rolled to victories over their rivals. FIU continued their winning ways, while their rival FAU clinched the C-USA East and will be hosting the title game.

The Noles got beat down, while their other rival Miami fell flat on their face for the second week in a row. In the NFL, the Bucs were on their way too embarrassing the Jaguars before a QB change softened the blow, while the Dolphins pulled one of the stunners of the NFL season.

With all of these games to unpack, this is how the top 5 looks heading in conference championship week and week 14 of the NFL:

Florida Gators- The Gators have been the most consistent team in the state, both college, and pro. Their only two losses are against the two teams playing for the SEC Championship Game (LSU and Georgia), and both of those teams can still make the playoff.

Florida had their way with Florida State all night Saturday. Taking advantage of missed tackles and a shaky secondary, Kyle Trask threw three touchdown passes. Florida State couldn’t do anything on offense aside from the opening drive, and a long Cam Akers second-half run. The 10-2 Gators will now wait to see where they are sent for a bowl game. They have an outside shot at a “New Year’s Six” game, but even if they fail to gain entry, an 11-win season is still a great one.

FAU Owls- It was simple for FAU: win, and you’re in. They answered the call by beating Southern Miss in the season finale, and now they are C-USA East champions. QB Chris Robinson connected with tight end Harrison Bryant for all three of his touchdowns passes in the 34-17 win. The Owl defense forced five turnovers on the way to the victory.

Next, the Owls will host West champ, UAB Saturday afternoon to decide who will win the Conference outright.

UCF Knights- The Knights ended their regular season by rolling over USF and ending the Charlie Strong era. Dillon Gabriel had 270 yards passing and two touchdowns, and WR Gabe Davis went over 100 yards again, catching both touchdowns. The Knights won’t be heading to the AAC title game or a New Years’ Six bowl game. A 10th win in the bowl, though, is still a good season for the Knights.

A consolation prize for them would be to draw either FSU or Miami in a bowl game for a shot at an in-state power five schools.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers- For the second week in a row, the Bucs came away victorious and both road wins were highlighted by excellent defense. They were able to knock Nick Foles out of the game at halftime for poor performance. Foles had just 93 yards passing, an interception and two fumbles.

On offense, the Bucs didn’t have to do much, as Jameis Winston had no touchdowns and no interceptions. Peyton Barber was the running back who was hot, scoring twice one from 15 yards and the other a goal-line touch. The Bucs will look to make it three wins in a row and a home win this week against the Colts.

Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins, yes, the Dolphins, are in our rankings, as they pulled off one of the upsets of the season, defeating the Eagles 37-31.

Devante Parker had an explosive 159 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick had 365 yards and three touchdowns.

The craziest play, however, came on fourth and goal when punter Matt Haack rolled left and shuffle passed the ball past three eagle defenders to kicker Jason Sanders.

The win puts the Dolphins at three wins, and they have three more winnable games coming up. Once looking like the sure-fire choice for the first pick, the Dolphins are sliding down the draft board towards the 3-6 range.

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Florida Gators

Gators/Mullen are better version of Harbaugh/Michigan

Matt Zemek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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The Florida Gators under Dan Mullen have become a better version of Michigan. One can say this based on the Gators’ authoritative Peach Bowl win last year, but in fairness to the Wolverines, some of their elite defensive players skipped the bowl to prepare for the NFL Combine or Draft.

When I say that Florida – an easy winner over Florida State 40-17 on Saturday night in The Swamp – is a “better Michigan,” I am not talking about the Peach Bowl last season. I am referring to a bigger picture.

Yes, Florida State is the end-of-season rivalry game for Florida. The Gators have their Thanksgiving weekend rivalry opponent figured out, unlike Michigan. You might be wondering where the comparison lies.

It’s actually a simpler connection than you might think.

Michigan cannot solve the chief rival in its own conference and division. The same is true of Florida. Like Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, Florida and Mullen cannot get past the brick wall known as the Georgia Bulldogs.

Ohio State keeps winning the Big Ten East at Michigan’s expense. The Buckeyes keep locking the Wolverines out of Indianapolis.

Georgia keeps winning the SEC East at Florida’s expense. The Dawgs keep locking the Gators out of Atlanta.

In both cases, one side has the plainly better players. The margin of victory has been substantial the past few years. The real story is not so much the failures of the loser, but how well the winner has built a program and created a high floor.

Ohio State is enjoying a supremely prosperous period in its history, a period on par with Woody Hayes’ great teams in the late 1960s and early 1970s Jim Harbaugh hasn’t done as well as he possibly could at Michigan – we can criticize him for that – but Harbaugh hasn’t exactly been awful, either. He has been a 9- or 10-win coach… which is not much worse than Bo Schembechler.

Michigan shouldn’t be going 0-3 against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. That is true. However, Michigan is not Texas, going 7-5. Michigan is not USC at 8-4. Michigan is not Nebraska, failing to make a bowl. Michigan is not the Florida State program which is a total mess right now.

Michigan could be so much worse.

As we consider Dan Mullen and Florida, then, the Gators are a better Michigan. They do lose to Georgia. They do fail to win their division. They do fail to play for conference championships… but whereas Michigan will not make a New Year’s Six bowl this season, Florida will. Whereas Michigan failed to win 10 games in the regular season, Florida succeeded in reaching that mark.

The Gators did this largely without Feleipe Franks. They did this without Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga for a significant chunk of the season.

Dan Mullen coached his butt off… and yet, because Georgia is clearly better than Florida, it is easy to think the Gators are falling short.

It is no secret that Florida fans – given their first taste of sustained success by Steve Spurrier, and then a second golden era created by Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow – love winning in STYLE. The style points matter to Gator fans.

The Mullen-era teams aren’t amazingly stylish. They certainly look bad against Georgia’s defense. This isn’t the gleaming, glowing, glorious period of conquest and domination the Spurrier or Meyer years were.

Yet, when you look at Florida State – and also at a Miami team which just lost to Florida International and Duke to close its season – the Gators don’t look that bad after all. FSU and The U are 6-6 and going to Shreveport or another off-the-radar bowl location. Florida will play in a Cadillac bowl, and elite bowl, a bowl the Gators expect to play in.

Yes, Georgia is still better, just as Ohio State is relative to Michigan. Yes, division and conference titles need to be won sooner rather than later. Yet, all things considered, Florida has done well with what it has. The key is to create something better and larger, but in 2019, Dan Mullen did not fail.

He is doing a better job than Jim Harbaugh, for sure.

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