Linval Joseph hasn’t even been involved in a padded Minnesota Vikings practice yet, but everyone seems to love what he is expected to bring to their defense. In short, he could be the nose tackle the team has lacked since Pat Williams.
Joseph was limited to individual work during offseason practices because of surgery to repair a partially torn labrum, but indicated the injury and the ensuing practices on the sideline might actually benefit him.
“By me being hurt, it showed me a different side of my game. I just had to get smarter, quicker instead of using just straight power. It actually developed my game to the next level,” Joseph said after his first training camp practice as a Viking.
Joseph even found a silver lining being sidelined during practices in April, May and June, saying it gave him more of an opportunity to learn his responsibilities in Mike Zimmer’s defense.
But physically is where Joseph is expected to bring a presence to the purple that they haven’t had in the middle of their defense since Williams retired after 14 years following the 2010 season.
“He reminds me a lot of Pat, just based off the way he plays. He’s a little bit taller – weight-wise they’re about the same – but definitely he reminds me a lot of Pat,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “We didn’t see him on the field much during OTAs, but he’ll be out here during training camp and it will be interesting to see how he lines up and puts his hands on people.”
The Vikings aren’t allowed to start the full-contact, padded practices of training camp until Sunday. At that point, they will really be able to assess the benefits of a 6-foot-4, mammoth anchor in the middle of the chaos at the line of scrimmage.
“He came in in tremendous-looking physical shape. He weighed 317, benches 500 pounds. And watching him out there in the walk-through, which doesn’t mean anything, he looked like a nose tackle’s supposed to look,” Zimmer said of the state-champion high school weightlifter. “To answer your question, I have high, high expectations of him, but they’re reserved a little bit because I’ve (only) seen him do a walk-through.
Still, Joseph’s resume has been building throughout his four years in the NFL. The Vikings had him in for a predraft visit in 2010, but the Giants beat them to the punch.
Following a rookie season learning the ropes, Joseph became a full-time starter. In the last three years, he has amassed 167 tackles, nine sacks and two forced fumbles.
But the statistics of a nose tackle don’t usually tell the whole story. He will be expected to take on double teams without giving up much ground, perhaps one of the most important aspects to get Zimmer’s defense rolling in stopping the run.
“It’s critical. It’s critical. I was very fortunate in Cincinnati to have Domata Peko, who in my opinion was one of the best nose tackles in the league, and on top of that he’s a great guy and a smart guy,” Zimmer said. “So that helps the middle linebacker not get blocked very much. So they do a lot of dirty work that people don’t see. That helps to keep linebackers having an opportunity to stay healthy and make tackles.”
He also has a Super Bowl ring to his credit, winning the championship with the Giants in his first season as a starter.
“I don’t brag about it. I just show them or talk to them about the things we did to get there,” Joseph said. “So that’s why I’m here. I’m going to try to bring that over here and just practice and play like a champion.”
Last year wasn’t as great for him. He played through much of the season with his partially torn labrum and didn’t tell his coaches. Only at the end of the season did he know it would require surgery, which he had in January.
The Vikings signed him anyways, knowing what a healthy Joseph could do for their defense. They let Letroy Guion walk without much resistance in free agency and signed Joseph to a five-year, $31.25 million deal that included a $3 million signing bonus.
“The Giants really ran the same defense, the type of scheme that I’m doing, so I really didn’t have to study too much,” he said. “I watch all the guys at my position and try to just develop off of them.”
Pro Football Focus ranked Joseph 24th among defensive tackles and nose tackles in 2013 despite the injury.
After visiting the Vikings before the 2010 draft and being drafted by the Giants in the second round (46th overall), Joseph got his lucrative opportunity to join the team in March. But he said there were multiple factors on why he wanted to come to Minnesota.
“I just liked the atmosphere here. They had the same colors I had when I went to college, so that’s another reason,” he said. “I visited here four years ago and had a good feeling about this team then, and it happened. I’m glad for the opportunity to be here now.”
Ultimately, though, Joseph will be judged on what he accomplishes physically in the middle of a defense that lost its prominence among the best run-stuffing teams in the league, a title it held for several years with Williams in the middle.
“He’s a big, physical feature, obviously. But he’s a guy that can run as well,” Robison said of Joseph. “I think guys are going to have a very hard time handling him on the inside as offensive linemen. Having the size, strength and speed that he has, that combination, it really is a killer. A lot of the time you get guys that can’t run. You get guys that can run but they’re not that big. I think it’s going to be tough for centers to block him one-on-one, so I expect him to probably get a lot of double teams. I think he’s man enough to hold up in there for us.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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