Can Falcons’ pass rush finally put Bryan Cox in good mood?

Bryan Cox looks at you with your new-agey, touchy-feely coaching ways, laughs, spits musket balls at the ground and tells you to your face what’s right, what’s wrong, who’s tough, who’s soft, his way and the wrong way.

“All these young coaches, young general managers,” said the Falcons’ defensive line coach, as if suddenly looking for a coconut to crush with his hands. “It used to be a man’s game. A handshake meant something. That’s not always the case anymore. Everything is new, young. Everybody likes to see some new gimmicky offense. But at the end of the day, somebody’s gotta beat somebody, and if you don’t have enough guys who can beat somebody, you’re going to lose.”

Get off his lawn.

If every Falcons’ pass rusher channeled Cox, they wouldn’t have finished 29th, 30th and 32nd in sacks the past three years. He didn’t make it through 12 NFL seasons because he was blessed with great talent or he had a spin move like Dwight Freeney.

“But I was tough as (expletive), and I was smart, and I worked hard,” he said.

Or, as he put it two years ago: “Sometimes I went a little over the edge. I didn’t know where the edge was.”

The Falcons believe they will have a better pass rush this season. They’re faster overall on defense. They’ve put together a collection of ends and outside linebackers they believe can get pressure quarterbacks off the spot and, dare we suggest, take them to the ground: Freeney, Vic Beasley Jr., Derrick Shelby, Adrian Clayborn and Brooks Reed.

Is this fantasy or reality?

“A work in progress,” Cox said. “We’re still mixing and matching guys. But I see progress.”

Cox is one of the few holdovers from Mike Smith’s staff. He coached under Dan Quinn when Quinn was the New York Jets’ defensive line coach. Cox’s son, defensive end Bryan Cox Jr., also signed with Florida in part because Quinn was defensive line coach there at the time. So the two are close, even though they have seeming diametric personalities.

“It’s a deeper thing than just coaching,” Quinn said. “As a player he demonstrated he was all-in for his teammates and as a coach he shows that. He’s one of the most fiercely loyal people I’ve ever met. And he’s in tune with what the players need.”

In Cox’s mind, he is still a player. He doesn’t have quite the level of kaboom at 48 years old that he had as a player. (This is someone who once challenged the entire Cincinnati team to a fight after he believed the Bengals cheap-shotted Miami’s kicker.) But there’s still a lit fuse there.

Last season during a 38-0 loss at Carolina, he got in Ra’Shede Hageman’s face for a personal foul penalty for a skirmish that followed a PAT. When Hageman argued back, a brief shoving match ensued. Cox also got into a brief altercation with a low-level Arizona scout at the scouting combine in February when the Cardinals’ employee attempted to take a player from the Falcons’ interview to Arizona’s.

Cox: “It happened. I apologized for it and I’ve moved on from it.”

He said he’s probably even more competitive as a coach than he was as a player. Did those emotions and competitiveness partially drive the scouting-combine incident?

“Like I said, I’ve moved on. … You’re either with me or you’re against me.”

I can’t be Switzerland and just ask?

“You’re either with me or you’re against me. I didn’t take much from George W. Bush, but I took that.”

Do you feel like you’re still a player?

“I have a player’s mindset. That’s important because there may be a lot of coaches who have the X’s and O’s or have book smarts, but at the end of the day if you can’t relate to the players and can’t understand that psychology it don’t matter.”

He’s honest, sometimes to a fault. If you’re in certain rooms at the team’s Flowery Branch facility, it’s easy to hear Cox’s booming voice (and expletives) through the walls of the defensive line meeting.

“I’m just being honest — sometimes it’s brutally honest,” he said. “We’re not in the protected feelings business. We’re in the honesty business.”

And in Cox’s defense, there has been no shortage of things to scream about.

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