BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Fletcher Cox knew what it meant to hear fans calling his name Monday along the fences beyond the Eagles' practice field at Lehigh University.
Cox, the defensive tackle whom the Eagles selected with the No. 12 overall pick in April's draft, arrived here with the onus of being the highest draft selection the Eagles have made since taking another defensive tackle - Corey Simon - at No. 6 overall in 2000.
"You expect a lot of out of them," Cox said of first-round picks, a sentiment coach Andy Reid had expressed a day earlier. Those expectations are even greater when the player is drafted as high as Cox.
The development of Cox became even more magnified on Sunday, when the team said that veteran Mike Patterson will miss training camp - and perhaps significant time beyond that - while recovering from brain surgery. Cox's immediate thoughts went to Patterson's health. Once those thoughts subside, though, the reality is that the Eagles must determine how to replace a starter on their defensive line.
The depth chart next to Cullen Jenkins on the line's interior includes Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri, but Reid said Cox will receive time with the first-team defense.
"That's my goal - to be a starter and push myself to a higher level," Cox said. "And get the older guys to push me to be the greatest defensive tackle."
Starter is a term that makes for talk-radio fodder and can become useful during contract negotiations, although Reid said Sunday that he views all four Eagles defensive tackles as starters, and Cox said defensive line coach Jim Washburn tells the players the same thing. Still, two defensive tackles must line up with the first team, and the Eagles have not been reluctant to use rookies in that spot.
Reid pointed to Simon and Patterson as first-round picks who were able to contribute immediately to the defense, an indication that the skills associated with the position are easily transferable from college to the NFL. Simon started 16 games in 2000; Patterson started seven games in 2005.
Cox was still catching his breath minutes after going through his first training-camp practice Monday, dripping sweat and gulping a bottle of water. He demonstrated the ability to penetrate the offensive line during team drills, although the roster was limited to rookies and selected veterans and the drills were not indicative of a Sunday in the NFC East.
"I've been playing football my whole life, so it's not my first day in my life with a helmet on," Cox said after practice.
He does not expect to be handed a role by virtue of his status as a first-round pick, and he pledged to accept coaching and dismiss the pressure that comes with that status. Cox said the biggest adjustment will be the speed of the game, which he sampled during organized team activities in the spring and will continue to experience when the rest of the team arrives later this week. But the fans calling his name and the pressure of being a first-rounder likely won't rattle Cox, a soft-spoken Mississippi native whose hobbies include horseback riding and repairing old cars.
"He played in the type of environment we played in in the SEC," said Eagles rookie safety Wade Bonner, a college teammate and close friend of Cox's at Mississippi State. "He loves the game of football, so he'll be ready for it."
Cox will just need to be ready sooner than even the Eagles might have expected. Patterson was scheduled to return for training camp, but his absence makes April's first-round trade to acquire Cox even more fortuitous for the Eagles - and only raises the expectations that Cox already shoulders.