This time last year, Karl Joseph spent his days at practice standing on the sideline watching his new teammates. That’s where he spent the team’s entire offseason while recovering from an ACL injury he had suffered during his senior season at West Virginia.
The team’s top pick at 14 overall’s pro career got off to a slow start. The seriousness of his injury would mean a long recovery. While he was able to take the field by the start of training camp, his road back to the player he once was would be much longer.
“Coming off that injury, I didn’t feel as strong or explosive as I know I could’ve been,” Joseph said of his rookie season.
“Certain plays I did, but then certain plays I could see I’m not as fast to react or as fast to plant that leg in the ground and drive and certain tackles and stuff like that.”
“Just being able to go through this offseason working in the weight room and going through OTAs, I feel like a new person. I feel a lot stronger and faster. I’m not really timid like I was last year. I was kind of timid certain times to plant off that knee and stuff like that. Now, it’s just a thing in the back of my mind. I don’t really feel it, so now I’m just focused on football more than the injuries and stuff like that.”
Joseph wasn’t given the start to begin the season. At first it was thought Joseph would be the backup to starter Nate Allen, but it was Keith McGill who would start the first two games with Allen as the backup and Joseph not seeing a single defensive snap.
By week three, the McGill experiment was over and Joseph received his first start. And if he were not up to snuff, it wasn’t noticeable.
In his first start at strong safety, he led the team with 10 combined tackles. He played well over each of his first three starts, tallying 24 tackles, 2 passes defended, and his first career interception in a win over the Chargers to open AFC West play.
It was after that when Joseph began to show some issues. It began with the Chiefs where he had great difficulty covering tight end Travis Kelce, was eaten up on a block that resulted in a 45-yard run, and gave up two late catches that sealed the win for the Chiefs.
He wasn’t much of a factor after that, and then a toe injury cost him the final four games of the regular season. Meanwhile the Raiders’ secondary was among the worst in the NFL. Again, I am in no way blaming Joseph for that, but had he been the player he was prior to his injury, he may have been able to stop some of the bleeding in the Raiders’ defense.
Having a full, healthy offseason and a year in the same system will go a long way to cure what has ailed the Raiders pass defense.
“It’s a whole different world. I feel like night and day, really, from now to last year,” said Joseph.
“Now I know what to expect. Last year, it was just like [I] just got thrown out there and learning the defense, still learning how to play, how to be a pro, being on time for meetings and stuff like that. Now, just knowing what to expect and having a feel for the guys around me and how the game plays out and everything like that. I feel a lot more comfortable.”
Even with Joseph not feeling as explosive as he could have been, he still managed to be named the the PFWA All Rookie team at safety. His 60 combined tackles, one interception and 6 passes defended were respectable for having played started just 10 games. Especially someone who wasn’t playing his best football.