Earlier this week Raiders rookie safety Karl Joseph saw the practice field for the first time during pre-camp warmup. It was the next step toward his return to the practice field after an offseason spent doing mental reps and doing light agility drills on the sideline during practice.
Today he took the field with all of his new Raiders teammates for the first time. Not only was it the first real practice time he’s had since the team drafted him with the 14th overall pick in April, but it’s the first real work he’s done since tearing his ACL during his senior season at West Virginia nearly ten months ago.
"This is what I’ve been doing my whole life," said Joseph of his football career. "Having football taken away from me, even though it makes me appreciate the game a lot more. I would get frustrated during OTA’s watching the guys out there and not being able to go out there and compete with them. I’m just happy and blessed to be able to come back out onto the field."
His fellow projected starter Reggie Nelson was also not practicing all offseason, leaving the Raiders without their top two safeties on the field. Making it all the more crucial that they took the field together today.
"It was great to have them out," Jack Del Rio said of Nelson and Joseph. "They were here for the pre-camp portion of it, so they’ve been working four of the last five days. Good to see them out for the official start of training camp, and see them both moving around, moving around well, communicating and being able to put in the work that needs to happen in the backend so that you feel real good about the adjustments that needed to be made."
Being away from the field for this long is much easier on a veteran like Nelson who is merely switching teams than it is for a rookie making the leap from college to the pros. Even still, Joseph didn’t see it as being too big for him.
"I think I’m good," Joseph said of his readiness day one. "The coaches are doing a great job explaining the defense to me. I think I’m getting it down. I took advantage of this offseason, getting in the playbook, so I think I’m up to speed. I’m ready to go, so I’m just about coming in and just doing my job."
Del Rio didn’t see any signs of Joseph or Nelson being behind the rest of the defense.
"I think pretty good. Pretty solid," Del Rio said. "They worked hard. During the time they weren’t able to be on the field, they were working very hard behind the scenes in meetings and walk-thrus and things. I feel really good about the start went off without much of an issue at all."
Helping with Joseph’s learning curve was having a strong veteran presence. Most specifically Nelson who is a 10-year NFL veteran who played for Del Rio in Jacksonville early in his career.
"It can be [a tough learning curve for a rookie]," said Del Rio. "Certainly great to have a veteran like Reggie back there with him. Guys like Nate [Allen] in the back end as well. It can be, but we think he’s a good football player and we’ll throw him right in and let him compete and expect him to grow every day. I think for all of us, we want to grow and develop and be the best we can be each and every day. Obviously a lot more of a spotlight goes on a guy like that taken in the first round, so that’s part of the deal; I think he understand that. Basically what we want him to do is just come out here and be himself and work his butt off every day and he’s done that to start. We’re happy with the way he’s working at it."
"It helps a lot," Joseph said of Nelson’s presence. "He’s been in the league for a long time, at a high level, so just watching him, just playing for him, knowing that he’s right next to me, giving me a lot more confidence. It eliminates a lot of mistakes on my part just watching him, so it helps a lot."
Any worries about the status of his knee appear to be behind him and the team trusted their diagnosis enough to pull the trigger on drafting him with their top pick. The goal all along was to get Joseph in camp on day one. Not missing any of his first training camp is vital. They accomplished that goal.