His strength and his hustle captivated the Giants' coaching staff during training camp. Then he made a big impact in his first NFL game, sacking St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner in the end zone and forcing a fumble that teammate Kenny Holmes recovered for the Giants' first touchdown of the year.
Since then the 6-5, 315-pounder has been nearly impossible to find on the field or on the stat sheets. The "Haitian Sensation" – as his pro and college teammate Jeremy Shockey once dubbed him – has done almost nothing since opening day and has seen very little playing time. He was even inactive in Week 12, when he was benched for newly-resigned Frank Ferrara in Tampa.
The Giants did not expect Joseph to become a star in his rookie season, but they certainly were counting on more than four tackles in 10 games from the 25th overall pick.
"William has to show me that he can play better," Giants coach Jim Fassel said after Joseph sat out the loss to the Bucs. "He just hasn't had the production in the game. You always need to relate it to how many plays (because) you can't compare production if one guy played nine plays and the other played 59. But those nine plays, you need to do some things – tackles and things like that."
Heading into New York's game against the Buffalo Bills, Joseph – who declined to be interviewed for this story – had exactly one tackle in his last six games as a limited member of the Giants' defensive line rotation. The University of Miami product could count the number of plays he played in most of those games on one hand, but he hardly made an impact when he was in there. When defensive tackle starters Keith Hamilton and Cornelius Griffin needed a rest, the Giants turned instead to Lance Legree.
Compare that to the play of Osi Umenyiora, the defensive end the Giants took in the second round out of Troy State. Despite the fact that Joseph missed the first 12 days (and 17 practices) of training camp in a holdout, Umenyiora appeared to be behind him in development entering the season. In fact, he was inactive for three straight games early in the season. But in the five games since, Umenyiora's been a mainstay in the rotation, with seven tackles. And that includes a key stop on Jets running back Lamont Jordan in overtime on Nov. 2, and a huge tackle of Minnesota receiver Randy Moss when he snuffed out a Vikings reverse.
"If you have six plays or nine plays or 10 plays, you have to make the most of them," Fassel said. "And I expect the most because if you're only going to play 10 plays you better be at the top of your game. I mean, you ought to be able to go in there as fresh as a daisy and go in there and really do some damage. You're not playing your 50th or 60th play where if you're on the field a lot you might get a little bit tired.
"The point I'm making is that there's a period of time he has to prove himself and if he's not in camp then he has a very short window to do that. After that in a lot of ways the window is closed. You cannot just say ‘Well we are just going to play you because you haven't done anything.' We are not going to play you unless we are forced to."
Joseph's arrested development doesn't come as a complete surprise to anyone who saw him in his senior year of college. After a huge junior year, he was a big disappointment as a senior getting only five sacks. According to on NFC assistant coach, even the Miami coaching staff didn't give NFL teams glowing recommendations before the draft.
"He's a big, talented guy but we don't think he plays hard," the assistant said back in April. "He's kind of a lazy guy. He didn't have a very good year. He's kind of a disappointment."
Despite fears about his work ethic, unusually quiet demeanor (for a Miami player) and his lack of production, Joseph still went in the first round, but he was the 10th defensive lineman taken. He wasn't even the Giants' first choice. They wanted Miami defensive end Jerome McDougle. But they lost out on him when the Eagles traded a second-round pick to San Diego so they could nab him at 15.
When they ended up with Joseph, the pick was hailed as the best possible option at the time for a team desperate for defensive line depth. And the Giants hoped that Joseph would quickly prove to everyone that he was a steal.
And late in training camp, it looked like he might. The coaching staff constantly praised his hustle and glowed about his development. No less an authority than defensive tackle Keith Hamilton praised Joseph by saying "The Giants' future is going to be in some good hands."
"He did some things," defensive line coach Denny Marcin said. "And then as the season's gone on, these young guys they hit the wall sometimes because of the longer season. It's kind of common. He might have done a little of that. So we played him less and less because there was some mistakes here and there and we've got to get a guy who can help us win a game."
Will Joseph ever be good enough to help the Giants win, too? Maybe eventually, but so far this season his performance hasn't given many hints about his future. And that's a problem, because with Cornelius Griffin heading towards unrestricted free agency and Hamilton expected to retire, they need to find out soon whether they can count on Joseph to be a starter in 2004. Otherwise they'll have to devote some of their offseason resources to finding somebody else.
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