NFL: Vikings’ Joseph is healthy, ready to go against old team
EDEN PRAIRIE -- Nose tackle is the positional equivalent of a bifurcated snow plow, the driving force behind a successful run defense and shock absorber for whatever a counterattacking offensive line can generate.It's nasty, grimy and essential w...
EDEN PRAIRIE - Nose tackle is the positional equivalent of a bifurcated snow plow, the driving force behind a successful run defense and shock absorber for whatever a counterattacking offensive line can generate.
It’s nasty, grimy and essential work Minnesota’s Linval Joseph has provided with deep appreciation from his teammates but scant recognition from his peers.
Arguably the NFL’s best run-stuffer at the three-technique, Joseph lost momentum for a Pro Bowl berth on Nov. 29, when he suffered a toe injury in a game against Atlanta and was sidelined three straight games.
Not that Joseph needed more motivation to get back on the field, but the Vikings continue their playoff push against the New York Giants, his former team, Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
“Doesn’t matter the opponent,” Joseph said Wednesday, trying hard to convince it is just another game. “I’ve been out for three weeks. The Pro Bowl got taken away from me. I just want to go back on the field, do my job and be with my boys.”
Joseph was optimistic about suiting up again after a cautious week of practice and questionable status leading up to last week’s game against Chicago.
“I’m feeling good. Best I’ve felt in a long time,” he said.
Perhaps no Minnesota defender personifies the selfless drive for collective success than Joseph. So much pivots off his ability to penetrate and disrupt offenses.
At 6 feet 4, 329 pounds, Joseph is an athletic marvel in strength and quickness.
“He’s probably one of the strongest human beings I’ve ever been around,” said defensive end Brian Robison.
As a high school junior, he won the Florida state weightlifting championship with a 415-pound bench press and 320-pound clean-and-jerk.
If he is effective, edge rushers have cleaner paths to the quarterback, linebackers can choke off running lanes and defensive backs have shorter coverage times downfield.
Joseph only has a half-sack this season. A successful play typically ends with him on the bottom of the pile somewhere near the line of scrimmage.
It is no place for primping.
“Grunt work and everybody doing their job has given me the opportunity to make plays to get recognition,” Joseph said. “Hey, the grunt work is the best work. Everybody wants to do the grunt work now. I just love how everything worked out, and I’m glad we’re still in the hunt.”
Joseph is grateful for so much more.
It is easy to forget he battled an elbow injury in 2014 that neutered his impact as the Vikings’ marquee free-agent acquisition. What is more, he spent most of the preseason recovering from a gunshot wound.
Joseph was with teammates at SoundBar in the Minneapolis Warehouse District on Aug. 9, 2014, hours after Minnesota’s exhibition win over the Oakland Raiders, his first game in a Vikings uniform.
At 1:40 a.m., according to police, a man in the nightclub suddenly opened fire before fleeing. Joseph dropped to the floor seeking cover and was struck in the left calf by a bullet.
He spent a brief period recovering in a hospital and counting his blessings. Police spent days counting bullets and victims.
Witnesses said the shooter dropped the gun before escaping. Police recovered the weapon. At least nine people were injured, including Dion Toney, an alleged member of the Bogus Boys gang.
Toney, 27, of Bloomington, died from complications from multiple gunshot wounds six weeks after the shooting spree. Community leaders told reporters Toney was the intended target although police have not confirmed it.
Investigators interviewed more than 50 witnesses from the club. The city pulled SoundBar’s operating license after the shooting and the business was closed.
Sixteen months later, no arrests have been made. Police have not released any surveillance footage of the shooting or provided a description of the suspect to avoid tainting evidence investigators want the public to corroborate.
“There were a number of people injured in this incident. We believe that the vast majority of the injured victims were not the intended targets,” said Minneapolis police spokesman Scott Seroka. “We need people who know who the intended target was, and know who the shooter was, to come forward and tell us the truth about what happened.”
Joseph said he has inquired about the unsolved case and seeks justice.
“It’s a mystery to me like it is to you,” he said. “I tried to make some calls, see the process. I just want the right thing to be done. This goes on a lot everywhere in the world, but I would feel better when something changes. This shouldn’t be happening.”
Police seem to know who was responsible for the shooting but are not getting enough cooperation from those who can implicate a suspect.
“Of course. You know how that situation goes,” Joseph said. “You see it (and) you don’t see it because you put your life in danger.”
Drafted in the second round by the Giants, Joseph became a starter his second season in New York. That was in 2011. After finishing just 9-7, the Giants ran the table in the playoffs and defeated heavily favored New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
Joseph became a free agent in March 2014. The Vikings and newly hired head coach Mike Zimmer were looking to fortify their run defense.
Minnesota came over the top of the cap-stressed Giants the opening day of free agency with a five-year, $31.25 million contract, including $12.5 million guaranteed.
“I love the Giants,” Joseph said. “That’s where I started my career. I love them for that. I thank them for that. But I’m a Viking now. We have something special here.”
Joseph started strong this season and peaked Nov. 8 in Minnesota’s 21-18 overtime victory over St. Louis.
He had 10 tackles, three for a loss, and a half-sack. His penetrated and stuffed Rams quarterback Nick Foles for an 8-yard loss on the initial series of overtime, forcing a punt and setting up the Vikings for Blair Walsh’s winning field goal.
“He’s doing so many good things, and he’s such a great kid, and really kind of embodies what we’re trying to get this football team to be like,” Zimmer said. “He does an awful lot of dirty work and doesn’t necessarily get the recognition. I know he’s getting more now. He doesn’t really care about getting recognition, I don’t believe.”
Joseph figures he would have been a Pro Bowler had he not been injured. But he is not fretting.
“I feel like I would have, but that’s only going to make all of us stronger,” he said.
Joseph quickly shifts the conversation back to the closeness of the Vikings’ defense, particularly on the D-line, and how teammates are relishing in each other’s success while holding themselves accountable.
“We just want everybody to be great,” he said. “We know how this league goes. It doesn’t last forever. So we just try to make the best of every situation. We’re more bonded as one. If someone does something wrong, we can address it.”