THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Not having to worry about rehabbing his injured ACL – or the thought of it being in the back of his mind – Rams defensive lineman Morgan Fox entered this year's training camp being able to focus solely on building strength without limitations in place.
"I was able to actually lift," Fox said. "Last year, a lot of it was being able to walk and run again for the first couple of months coming out of surgery. Being able to lift heavy and lift hard, and still rehab and strengthen my knee, and attack my lower body in different ways so that I could regain that strength and explosiveness that maybe I was lacking a little bit last year."
Whether it was the workout routine or something else, that rejuvenated feeling is reflected in his play.
Fox has recorded a sack in each of the Rams' last two games, moving him into a tie for second on the team with outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and defensive lineman Michael Brockers. He also has nine total tackles through four games, halfway toward matching his production in 16 games last year.
Additionally, with two sacks on the season, he's one away from setting a new career-high in a single season.
According to Fox, there are a lot of variables that go into that. He primarily gave credit to his Rams teammates and coaches.
"Having good coaching with Coach Henny (defensive line coach Eric Henderson)," Fox said. "Being able to rush with guys like A.D. and Brock, and having the back seven and linebackers we have who can cover and making things possible to make plays when you get a chance."
The journey to becoming a reliable contributor along the Rams' defensive line is even more remarkable when considering additional obstacles he's had to overcome to get to this point.
Fox played his college football at Division II Colorado State University-Pueblo, then earned his NFL opportunity by signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He was released on Sept. 3, then signed to the practice squad two days later; promoted to the active roster on Oct. 8, only to be released a second time three days later before rejoining the practice squad on Oct. 11; then elevated to the active roster again on Dec. 15.
In 2017, Fox played 31 percent of the team's defensive snaps and recorded 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. However, just as he appeared to be ascending into a starting role the following year, he suffered the aforementioned season-ending ACL injury during the 2018 offseason program.
Fortunately, Fox was able to bounce back in 2019 by nearly matching his production in 2017, posting 18 total tackles (19 in 2017) and two sacks.
"He just embodies all the things that you would want in a football player – his toughness, his football acumen," Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said during a video conference with reporters Wednesday. "I think his dedication to his teammates, he's a great teammate, guys love being around him and I think that when you see guys like (DL Michael) Mike Brockers and (DL) Aaron Donald, guys who've been around a lot, they've seen a lot, the way they are with Morgan Fox will tell you all you need to know, because those guys are no-nonsense guys and they've seen it all in the NFL."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brockers and Donald have been key influences during Fox's time in Los Angeles, primarily due to their work ethic and their willingness to share their knowledge on technique and other topics.
That vested interest in helping Fox grow was likely due to knowing he had the potential to be the player he is today.
"I always knew Fox had the ability to do what he's been doing," Donald said during a video conference with reporters Wednesday. "He's a great pass-rusher, he's stout in the run, he's confident. He's always asking questions, trying to get himself better."
Both Donald and Staley expressed excitement about Fox finally getting a chance to show everyone outside of the organization his abilities and playmaking skills, and hope to see it continue.
"I think he's been able to express himself as a player, probably to his full potential and we're just excited," Staley said. "He does a lot of things for us. He can play a lot of different positions and gives us really a lot of options in there. So, he's been a joy to coach and I'm excited to continue to see him improve."