In most cases, an upperclassman with starting experience assumes the leadership responsibilities that come with the title of a tenured veteran. And for junior nose tackle Sebastian Joseph, he possesses those values.
But surrounded by seniors on the defensive line, Joseph still follows the lead of his fellow returning starters.
“I am (leading), but they expect me to lead too,” Joseph said of fifth-year seniors Darius Hamilton, Quanzell Lambert and Julian Pinnix-Odrick. “Especially Julian. He puts pressure on me. He’s like, ‘You’ve got to lead them. You’ve got to lead them. We’re not going to be here next year. You’ve got to lead them.’ So yeah, I get my fair share of talks, talking to the guys too every once in a while.”
Joseph gave Rutgers consistency in 12 starts last season. He plugged the middle in his first season as a full-time starter with 22 tackles, one sack and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Changes came via coach Chris Ash's new scheme, but Joseph adjusted his game to complement the switch.
“(I changed) little things because last year, the scheme was different, so my footwork was a lot different,” said Joseph, who added that he gained five pounds. “It was a lot more lateral for me … but now, it’s more attack — moving, getting vertical and stuff like that. That’s the things that I’ve been working on this training camp, just getting more vertical off the ball.”
Joseph added that his pass rushing improved, with an emphasis on shedding blocks.
“It’ll definitely help me with double teams and other things like that instead of sitting down and catching because that’s a little bit of a disadvantage to last year,” he said.
Defensive line coach Shane Burnham took notice of Joseph’s growth, physically and technically.
“He’s a big, good-looking kid, isn’t he, man?” Burnham said. “I’ll tell you what, you know, what he needed to do coming out of the spring — we challenged him. He’s playing with more consistent pad level, inside hands. He has a tendency to spring outside the play wide with his hands and what we were doing schematically as a defense, technically as a defense, we asked him to change his footwork off the ball from what they were doing previous.”
Burnham added that the impact of the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder could take off on all situations because of those tweaks.
“How much we’ll get out of Sebastian in the pass game, as far as pass rush, we’ll see,” Burnham said. “But the run game, he should be a heck of a player because he is a stump and he’s a tough, strong kid and I’ve seen him continue to develop that technique.”
Rutgers failed to get pressure on the quarterback with just 14 sacks to tie for No. 120 in FBS last year, but that could change soon in an aggressive approach.
“I think this system’s going to bring great opportunity for us — the whole defensive line,” Joseph said. “This year, it’s more about attacking the offensive line instead of reading. You just go. Last year, it was more I had to read my key — I had to read what I had to do. More of this year, it’s just go, go, go — react.”
As Joseph and the line rev up their workload ahead of the second half of training camp, how far the strides came remains unknown.
But for an experienced group regarded as one of the best units on the team, the energy is there.
“We don’t look at it as pressure,” Joseph said. “We look at it as a challenge, and each and every day we go to work and we look at it as a day for us to get better so we could live up to those expectations that are put upon us.”