As part of the NFL UK media day, we spoke with veteran NFL cornerback Johnathan Joseph, drafted 24th overall by the Bengals in 2006 before moving to the Texans in free agency ahead of the 2012 season. Now entering his 14th season in the league, Joseph has his fair share of experience – if he stays healthy, he could play in his 200th game late in the year.
Joseph has been ol’ reliable for two teams, playing in at least 12 games in all but one season and 14+ games in 10 seasons. The veteran credits his longevity to a little bit of everything: he does yoga and Pilates to prevent injury but it’s also down to his competitiveness, play on the field and being a good teammate according to the adopted Texan. As well as all that, Joseph admits that staying healthy has been key too, “if they [coaches] see you on film, they see what you can do, if you’re not healthy they can’t see what you can do and then with being up there in age, it’s easier to move away from you. I’ve been blessed over the years to stay healthy.”
The Texans Cornerback is a fan of the veteran role though, he thrives in it. In fact, he found himself needing to dumb down his coaching at the NFL UK event coaching a kid’s team as he has become used to helping teammates develop, he admits he just wants to see his team and teammates improve. One thing that has helped the Joseph to take on the coaching role is a lack of competition for his starting spot, meaning he can give advice without worrying that it will lose his spot on the team. Entering his 14th season, that still looks unlikely to change. Despite being a coach on the field, Joseph hasn’t put much thought to life after playing football, “to be good at something you have to be all in.” With his leadership skills, one wonders it’s not hard to imagine Joseph on an NFL sideline in the coming years.
As fans, we’ve all seen how the league has changed since 2006 but it’s nothing compared to the changes you notice as a player. Joseph highlights how many results would have changed if they were played under the current replay rules. However the biggest changes have come in the science of the game, in terms of equipment like helmet and cleat design, as well as analytics, concussion awareness and the technology used in keeping the players fit, according to Joseph. It is all another world compared to when he entered the league as a rookie.
The game has changed significantly schematically too. The biggest change Joseph has noticed is the loss of the fullback, what was a ubiquitous position is now employed by 3-4 teams, instead moving to using Tight Ends in the backfield as HBs as it is a more versatile option. On the defensive side of the ball, formations have changed dramatically, with a huge rise in the use of nickel and dime packages. “The nickel back it was [only used in] 21 personnel, 2012 personnel. Nowadays they [nickel and dime backs] are playing 50-70% of the plays. When I first got into the NFL it was about 25%, 30% of the plays.”
The other big change that Joseph has noticed is the move away from the pocket passer to QBs who can run as well. The Texans have a running threat at quarterback themselves in Deshaun Watson. While he has gone under the radar over this offseason, Joseph says Watson is ready to “show the world who he is as a quarterback and a leader. The sky’s the limit.” Of course Joseph believes in his teammate but having Watson on the team brings another benefit, preparation for the defence. Practicing against Watson is the best way for defences to prepare for playing against running Quarterbacks. “As a defender it helps me a lot because it’s hard to simulate something like that but you get it hands on with Deshaun in practice, a guy that can extend the plays 10-12 seconds and throw the ball 80 yards down the field.” With Marcus Mariota (twice), Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck (twice) and Pat Mahomes all on the schedule this season, the Texans will need to be ready for a running threat under centre.
Looking ahead to next season, Joseph sees the division as very competitive. While he was used to physical division rivalries with the Steelers and Ravens with Cincinnati in the AFC North, in the AFC South, “we all hate each other” because of how competitive all four teams are. “If you get behind 2-3 ball games then you’re fighting for your life in the division”. It all means that the divisional games will all be tough, drawn out contests and the division fight will be a 17 week slugfest.
Year 14 will prove a tough one for the Texans but between JJ Watt, Deshaun Watson, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins, there is plenty of talent on the roster for them to make the playoffs. When the Texans head to Wembley to play face the Jaguars on 3rd November, they’ll be in the thick of a division race and with a cornerback who has seen just about everything, they’ll be prepared for anything. Now Johnathan Joseph has just one last thing to tick off for his career, a deep playoff run.