Joseph ‘the whole package,’ teammates say

The return of Linval Joseph will help a defense that is already looking much better in the preseason. Coaches and players talked about the impact Joseph had before he was shot in the calf.

The Minnesota Vikings’ biggest (physically and contractually) free agent addition was ready for the last three weeks, but nose tackle Linval Joseph is expected to be back for the regular-season opener.

Joseph suffered a gunshot wound to the calf during a shooting at a Minneapolis nightclub hours after the team’s preseason opener. He hasn’t practiced yet, but that is expected to change soon – perhaps as early as Saturday. This week, he started running sprints without any noticeable effect.

Once a cornerstone of the defense, the Vikings’ run-stuffing ability fell to 16th in the league last year, one of the major reasons the Vikings decided to let Letroy Guion move on in free agency and sign the more accomplished Joseph.

“The times that he was out there, you could feel his presence,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said of Joseph. “We’ll be glad to get him back when we get him back into the fold, start working him whenever that is. He’s been very attentive in meetings and what we’ve been trying to accomplish schematically and what we’ve done in the installs and those kinds of things. He’s been a true pro as far as that’s concerned. From that aspect of it, we’ll be fired up to get him back out here and get him going.”

Joseph didn’t play in the final three preseason games, but throughout the offseason and the first two weeks of training camp, he made his presence felt.

“Linval’s a heck of a nose guard. We played against him last year and I thought he was the best guy we played against last season,” center John Sullivan said early in training camp. “So we’re glad he’s on our side and it makes these very competitive practices.”

From the other side of the line of scrimmage, Joseph’s teammates on the defensive line know what he brings, too. Fred Evans could be Joseph’s backup after playing the same role behind Guion and Kevin Williams last year.

Now, both of those former teammates are gone – Williams with the Seattle Seahawks, Guion with the Green Bay Packers – along with defensive end Jared Allen, who also moved on in free agency to the Chicago Bears. Three-quarters of the starting defensive line in 2013 will be different this year, but Joseph is expected to be the biggest upgrade.

“He’s a great defensive tackle. He’s quick. He’s fast, a big guy. Strong guy,” Evans said. “He’s just a great defensive tackle. I feel like we have a really good defensive line across the board.”

Two aspects of defensive line play are apparent at this early point in the process of seeing head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense being implemented in games: They will be more aggressive and they will rotate more than they have in the past under former head coach Leslie Frazier.

Preseason stats are misleading, and Joseph only played nine snaps in the preseason opener before being sidelined for the rest of the exhibition season. But the Vikings were giving up only 3.59 yards per rushing play in the first three games of the preseason (when starters actually play), about a half yard less per rush than last year and 12th in the league. They have played better against the pass, too. Last year, they were ranked 31st in pass defense. In their first three preseason games, they gave up only 5.41 yards per pass, almost 1.7 yards less per play than last year and third in the league this preseason.

Although Joseph is likely to be used mostly on first and second downs, Edwards believes his presence in the middle helps on passing downs, too.

“He did a good job of pushing the pocket when he was in there early in the training camp. You could see he was pushing the pocket pretty good in our pass rush,” Edwards said. “Anytime you get a big guy that can do that, give you that kind of push in the pocket, it’s just going to help free some things up on the outside and get the quarterback off his spot.”

Joseph said he now “feels good” after rehabilitating his “straight in/straight out” bullet wound in his calf. He’s thankful he can get back to doing what he loves, playing football, and his presence should help a great deal on a defense that appears to be significantly improved over last year.

“He’s got a lot of power,” Sullivan said. “He has really good hands. He sheds your hands well. He uses your weight and momentum against you. He’s the whole package at that spot.”

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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