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Sons of Bryan Cox, Ken Griffey Jr. competing at Shrine Game

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Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Having a father who played in the NFL can be a valuable resource for a draft prospect, and it's not lost on three such sons competing this week at the East-West Shrine Game: Florida's Bryan Cox, Jr., Illinois' Hardy Nickerson, Jr., and Michigan's Kyle Kalis.

Date: Saturday, Jan. 21
Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network


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But the advantage doesn't end with the luxury of being able to lean on a former NFL veteran for advice. It can help generate scouting interest in them, as well.

"I think some of the clubs do consider (family pedigree). The DNA doesn't lie. That's something scouts and coaches talk about," said NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock. "You're not going to get carried away with it, but if a guy was a successful player in this league, his son's probably got something athletically and was probably brought up a certain way. I think it does help. (Monday), I heard a lot of comments about Bryan Cox. Because of his injuries this year, people are interested to see how he does this week. His father was a heck of a player and they're interested in seeing him."

The elder Bryan Cox, now the Atlanta Falcons' defensive line coach, played 12 NFL seasons and was selected to three Pro Bowls. Bryan Cox, Jr., suffered hand and ankle injuries in 2016 and was of little help to the UF defense for much of the year. But at 6-foot-3, 268 pounds, he flashed enough pass-rushing skill over four years at the school to intrigue pro scouts at a venue like the Shrine Game. He feels blessed to have an NFL veteran as a father, but is quick to point out his own identity as a player.

"I'm completely my own player. We have the same traits, the same blood, but we're two different people," Cox said. "He's a D-line coach in the league, and he can teach me all the technique he teaches his guys, and he's given me some pointers and tips on how to handle interviews with scouts and coaches."

Added Florida defensive line coach Chris Rumph: "You can tell his dad is a coach. He understands the business aspect of playing sports. He's mature and he's a student of the game."

Kyle Kalis' father, Todd, played eight NFL seasons (1988-1995) as an offensive lineman, primarily with the Minnesota Vikings.

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"I think it helps as far as scouts having a little better idea of who you are," Kalis said. "And it's a luxury. If I have an agent question, I'll ask him. Technique question, I'll ask him, next to my position coach. Scheme thing? I'll ask him."

Nickerson, Jr., not only can call on a 16-year NFL vet in his father, but he's actually played for him, as well. When Lovie Smith took over at Illinois, he hired Hardy Sr. as defensive coordinator, then junior joined the Illini from Cal as a graduate transfer.

"It was awesome to be able to spend my senior season with him, learn from him and have him coach me," Nickerson said. "He's already been through this process and he's coached in the league, so he knows what these coaches are looking for."

The Shrine Game participant with the most famous father of all, however, doesn't share quite the same dynamic. Arizona wide receiver Trey Griffey is the son of Ken Griffey, Jr., the former Major League Baseball star who won 10 Gold Glove Awards and was selected to the MLB All-Star Game 13 times as one of the sport's elite centerfielders.

The younger Griffey, however, took a different sporting path.

"I fell in love with football at a young age, maybe 7 or 8 years old, watching guys like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Haden," Griffey said. "I love the physicality of football. I stopped playing baseball when I was 13. I had a love for football and my parents understood that -- they totally supported me and still do."

NFL clubs will ultimately evaluate the sons of former pro athletes on their own merits; either they'll prove to be good enough to play in the NFL, or they won't. But a little name recognition can, at least, helps get them noticed.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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