As the camera operator prepped him for the interview, Knox reached into his practice shorts, pulled out a comb and brushed out his hair, holding up a finger to delay the interview until his look was perfected. After a quick inspection, the comb went back into his shorts and he was ready to go.
It was an on-field lesson Knox has learned repeatedly the past few weeks that just happened to come in handy in front of the camera: Always be prepared.
“I’ve gotten a lot of push from the guys, pushing me real hard to stay consistent, keep my head up, get in the film room and just learn the defense,” Knox said.
The added push comes from necessity.
Beyond starting safeties Reshad Jones and CJ Byrd, there aren’t many experienced options at the position.
Junior Donavon Baldwin was suspended from the team after being injured in a bar fight earlier this month, and sophomore Quintin Banks tore his medial collateral ligament in practice last week. That leaves Knox as the best backup plan outside of a group of true freshmen.
It’s not surprise then that, even before Banks was hurt, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez touted the importance of Knox’s development.
“John Knox is a key at safety,” Martinez said. “He doesn’t know it all right now. He’s starting to get it. He needs to be more consistent. But if he continue to progress, he solidifies the safety position.”
Consistency is the key word for Knox this preseason.
The Statesboro High graduate was ranked as a top-20 safety by some recruiting services when he committed to Georgia, and at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, he can go head to head with even the most physical receivers. It’s the mental part of the game the 20-year-old is still trying to master.
“I see a guy who’s very talented, who’s still learning what to do in a position where you can’t make mistakes,” head coach Mark Richt said. “It’s the last line of defense, and when you make a mistake, it’s big.”
It’s all big this season for Knox, who knows a trial-by-fire experience is inevitable.
Martinez said he hoped to have a five-man rotation at safety. Right now, Knox would be third on that depth chart, despite the fact that he’s never played a game and is learning as he goes.
“Knox is not quite where he understands what it should look like, but he’s working hard toward that,” Richt said. “He’s getting it. It’s just taking him time.”
One thing Knox does have going for him, however, is the player he’s replacing.
Banks saw action in 12 games last season and spent much of the first week of this year’s preseason camp wowing coaches before his injury. Now he’s imparting some wisdom –and a healthy amount of responsibility – to Knox.
“He just told me there’s going to be some errors I’m going to make, but I’m going to have to fix it at the same time,” Knox said. “I can’t keep making the same mistakes. They need me out there, and I’ve got to produce.”
Greatness is Knox’s long-term goal, but for now, he’s only concerned about consistency.
So while Knox is being thrust into the spotlight, he’s doing all he can to prepare for the task at hand. After all, he said, Banks will be back eventually, and when that happens, Knox isn’t planning to just hand over the job he’s been working so hard for.
“I’m hoping to play the same role throughout the season, if not starting,” Knox said. “So I’m just going to keep fighting as hard as I can, and when Quintin comes back, I know coach is going to put him in, but I’m still going to do my thing.”