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It’s been a game of “Where’s Waldo” throughout the Giants’ offseason conditioning program. It’s not that undrafted linebacker Dan Fox has been hidden, but where exactly he lines up is anyone’s guess.
“I’ve worked at MIKE, WILL and SAM,” Fox said. “I work all over.”
Versatility is nothing new for the Notre Dame alum. Last year, the senior saw significant time at both the middle and weak side linebacker positions in the Fighting Irish’s 3-4 defense. The Giants – as most know – operate out of the 4-3 defense.
Fox admitted the change in scheme is different. Having been used to playing with just three defensive linemen in front of him, the 6-3, 233-pound Fox got used to taking on offensive linemen.
“You don’t have to be so aggressive,” Fox said. “You can wait and see where your fit is. Some plays it has its advantages, some plays its disadvantages. I honestly like both defenses.”
Fox admitted there’s a difficulty in learning a brand new concept, but it’s not nearly as tough as the season he endured last year. As a senior, Fox suffered a knee injury that forced him to wear a donjoy knee brace, a brace normally worn by offensive linemen.
While the brace prevented him from further injuring his knee, it also kept him from extending his leg. The linebacker that once roamed sideline-to-sideline suddenly couldn’t “open up his stride.” The way Fox described it, he was simply “pitter-pattering around.”
The injury forced Fox to endure the most frustrating time of his career. At one point, he lost his starting position. When the year ended, his draft stock had plummeted despite finishing with a team-high 95 tackles. Fox wasn’t invited to participate in the NFL Combine.
The Indianapolis snub was enough to motivate Fox. The Cleveland native ran a 4.59 40-yard dash time at his pro day, gaining the attention of several pro scouts, but he still went undrafted.
“I definitely think the injury affected me when it came to the draft,” Fox said. “First of all, it affected my performance on the field. I gave everything I had, but I wasn’t even close to being 100 percent.”
Once the draft concluded, Fox’s phone began to light up with teams interested in signing him. The Giants were one of the first to call. Fox weighed his options, knowing throughout his career he had played in a 3-4 defense and the Giants ran a 4-3. Was the change in scheme worth the risk?
Others reached out letting Fox know about the reputation the Giants’ organization held. Shortly thereafter, he signed on the dotted line. Then, he got another call, this time from former teammate and Giants sixth-round pick cornerback Bennett Jackson.
“He was really excited about it,” Fox said. “We were both excited to be on the same team again.”
How long that remains is now the question. Jon Beason’s 12-week injury helps Fox’s chances, at least in the short term. He’s gained valuable extra reps and earned praise from the coaching staff.
Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell:
“He’s a smart football player. I think he’ll be good on special teams for us and just a solid player that you can develop and build on.”
Linebackers coach Jim Hermann:
“Anytime you have a smart guy like that who football just comes natural to, that gives him a chance. He’s got to make the team on special teams, obviously, that will be his biggest deal when he comes back. For me, as a position coach, to be able to say, ‘Hey look, he has multiple roles on defense, he can play a lot of positions,’ that helps his chances.”
History favors Fox. The Giants have long found spots on their roster for undrafted rookies. Spencer Paysinger, who is splitting time with the starting unit, went undrafted in 2011. Mark Herzlich, too.
Chase Blackburn, who signed with the Carolina Panthers last offseason, played eight years with the Giants after going undrafted in 2005.
“I was so excited to choose the Giants,” Fox said. “I know there are opportunities. If you give good effort and make plays, you’ll make the team. That’s really all you can ask for as an undrafted guy.”