When the Oakland Raiders drafted Karl Joseph in the first round of last season’s draft, the response was overwhelmingly positive. He played a position of need, he was an exciting player to watch (but not to be hit by), and by all accounts he was a great teammate off the field.
The problem was, he wasn’t really healthy.
In his final season at West Virginia, Joseph tore his ACL and spent the entire off-season rehabbing the knee in hopes that he’d be ready — but to no avail. The result was a rookie season that seemed rushed and incomplete.
“Just being able to go through this offseason working in the weight room and going through OTAs, I feel like a new person,” Joseph said back in June. “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.”
Fast-forward a couple months, and the Raiders are beginning to see the benefits of that kind of change in attitude.
“I think if you watch him, you see Karl making checks. He’s disguising, he’s blitzing, he’s covering, he’s hitting,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said on Monday. “I saw a couple times he used his shoulder today, put his body on people. He’s explosive. Everything you saw early in his career and the reason why he’s here, he’s got all of that. I think he’s really eager to get this thing going because I think anytime you come off injuries, your legs and your body don’t really react how you expect them to. You have to really work with it, but he’s on top of his game.”
Joseph has made several plays in camp, including a couple on Tuesday. Head coach Jack Del Rio has liked what he’s seen from Joseph as well.
“He’s a tireless worker,” said Del Rio. “There’s no shortage of energy from him and desire from him to want to improve and become a really good football player. We liked a lot about what we drafted and I think he’s healthier now. We’re getting a chance to see more of what he can be as he’s healthier and has a little bit of experience.”
This, of course, is great news for a Raiders D that is desperate for playmakers and improvement this season. With the offense re-tooled and reloaded, the pressure is going to be on the defense to make a giant step forward and to live up to the expectations that come with the type of talent on the roster.
A big part of that will be 2016’s first round pick — who, thankfully, finally sounds like he’s ready to go.