EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Derek Cox was a starter in Week 1 of his rookie season, yet he finds himself battling for a starting role with the Minnesota Vikings - his third team in three years.
Fortunately for Cox, he landed in a secondary currently under a retooling process looking for a third cornerback to go along with Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn.
"I view it as a prime opportunity, that's how you have to approach it every day," Cox said. "[Mike Zimmer's defense] is similar to some defenses I've played in before, which helps."
After grabbing eight interceptions in his first two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cox was sidelined with injuries in 2011 and the team that drafted him in the third round of 2009 let him walk in 2012. The San Diego Chargers then parted ways with Cox just one season after signing him to a four-year, $20 million deal.
He started the first 11 games for the Chargers last season, but was benched for the final seven games, including two playoff matchups. He didn't appear to be a fit for the Chargers defense and Cox admitted there was a learning curve to adapt to what San Diego was asking him to do.
"Cornerbacks could travel across the ball, running with motion, and you'd be in a zone coverage," Cox said. "Turned you into a nickleback, you'd be in a base [defense] and run to other side in zone coverage, you'd turn into the nickel."
"So there was a learning curve. It was a big adjustment to make."
Cox came to Minnesota seemingly for the exact reason he left San Diego, because the Vikings provide what he's looking for in a defense's schematics. Cox said Zimmer's defensive principles are similar to what made him successful in Jacksonville.
"It's pretty much left, right - man, zone principles," Cox said. "I play a ton of press coverage."
After giving up a league-high 37 touchdown passes to opponents last season, the Vikings brought in a defensive-minded head coach, signed three free agent defensive backs in Munnerlyn, Cox and Kurt Coleman and drafted another pair of defensive backs.
While Munnerlyn figures to be the team's starting cornerback alongside Rhodes, the Vikings will need a third corner to step up in the often-used nickel formations, which calls for an extra corner to play Munnerlyn's outside spot while he slides into the middle.
As the most experienced cornerback on the roster next to Munnerlyn, Cox is a natural fit for the Vikings' need along with other candidates such as Josh Robinson, Shaun Prater and rookies Kendall James and Jabari Price.
"[Cox] is a smart guy, he's got good size," Zimmer said. "He's catching on to the defense we're trying to teach, and really, he's been getting better every single day that we've had him."
Cox grabbed one of the day's lone interceptions during Thursday's OTA when he picked off Christian Ponder in the team's 11-on-11 drills. However, there's only so much coaches can glean from defensive backs that are barred from full contact.
"Actually I think we've improved quite a bit [in the secondary]," Zimmer said. "We're doing a much better job in the coverage than early on in the first minicamp. We're understanding coverages better. We're playing a lot tighter. We've still got a ways to go and you can't play any bump and run in these OTAs, so that will be our next big emphasis in the back end when we finally get to training camp."
"Because we've got to be good at that."
At 6-foot-1-inch, Cox stands as the tallest Vikings' cornerback next to Rhodes -- and said his attributes fit the style of defense Zimmer is looking to run.
"My size, arm length, it's an advantage," Cox said. "Using my arms, plays to my skill set. That will help me when it's time to press."