Rookie G Davin Joseph has proven himself on the practice field but is eager to show he can do the same when it counts
It's not quite yet Halloween, but rookie right guard Davin Joseph is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Off the field, the Buccaneers' 2006 first-round draftee greets everyone with an infectious smile and a humble demeanor. But when he straps on the helmet a transformation occurs.
Gone is the mild-mannered and easy-going rookie. In his place stands a 6-3, 313-pound mountain of a man intent on owning not just the line of scrimmage but at least the three yards in front of it.
"It's just all business," said Joseph about stepping onto the field. "It's football so it's very competitive. My position takes a lot of aggression to be competitive. Take this week. You've got big Sam Adams and you've got some linebackers and people who can play. For me, I have to aggressive."
That thirst to compete, coupled with immense talent and even greater potential, was evident in training camp and the preseason and helped Joseph earn the starting right guard spot before the Buccaneers' season opener against Baltimore. Unfortunately, Joseph's debut was postponed after he suffered a knee injury in practice a few days prior to that game.
"It was one of those things you have to take in stride," Joseph said. "It was another hurdle to get over. I was lucky that it wasn't a season-ending injury, and I just had to come back from it and then not lose my mental focus with this team – being in meetings, paying attention, knowing my assignments and staying in shape doing the things I could do.
"It's a learning process. It's doing as much as you can mentally while you can't physically so that when you come back you're not behind."
Last weekend marked Joseph's return to action, and the big guard from Oklahoma saw playing time on special teams and in short-yardage situations at right guard. This Sunday, he's expected to start at right guard against the Bengals, though Joseph is being careful not to assume anything.
"We're anxious to see him play," said Head Coach Jon Gruden earlier this week. "We had big hopes for him leaving training camp. He had a great camp for us. He's a good football player. He's a little bit rusty, obviously, with the layoff, but he has practiced well here in the last five or six days.
"Having him back gives us a guy we think is going to be a heck of a football player for us for a long time."
True to his nature, Joseph remains unfazed by Gruden's high praise and is focused on showing Buccaneers coaches and fans the one thing he knows: he belongs at this level.
"Coach Gruden is just such a passionate person," Joseph said. "He expects great things out of all of his players. I don't think me coming into this situation is any different than the way he looks at the other guys who have been doing this for a long time. He has the same faith in those guys that he has in me. That's a part of being a Buccaneer. Now it's just going out and showing I fit the role. It's the games that count. It's not the practices. It's the games that count, and now it's time to show that I can do the same things I do in practice in a game."
He'll have his chance against the Bengals. Over their past two games, the Bengals defense has allowed an average of 203 rushing yards per contest. Their run defense has been gashed by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Willie Parker and the New England Patriots' Laurence Maroney. And in a game that's likely to hinge on which team can get their running game going, Joseph knows he has the chance to play a big part.
"I have to be physical and basically get our running game going," Joseph said. "It's basically on the guards to get that running game going. It's just part of my job. Off the field I try to relax because at practice I give it everything I've got, so I don't have much left anyway by the time I get home. It's just a part of my job, and I enjoy doing it.
"You just have to consistent. It's being on your blocks and being physical but also not making big mental errors. I think that's the one thing that's really going to dictate our running game – being consistent on every first down. And that starts with the line, being on our assignments, being physical and then just taking over the line of scrimmage from there. I think we have the guys to do that. It's just about focusing, concentrating and executing on a down-to-down basis."
Still, the Bengals aren't pushovers. Not only will they be fresh off a bye, but they'll try to counter the Buccaneers' running game with Adams, the massive defensive tackle and three-time Pro Bowler. Adams, 6-3 and 350 pounds, signed with the Bengals as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. In addition to that gap-plugger, the Bengals will also throw 6-4, 305-pound defensive end Bryan Robinson at the right side of the Buccaneers' offensive line. Together, Adams and Robinson have a combined 21 years of NFL experience as compared to a few quarters worth for Joseph.
But the rookie remains confident, and he's excited about the opportunity to play against quality opposition in front of Buccaneers fans.
"It all comes down to technique, being consistent and hopefully using the heat to our advantage," Joseph said. "Hopefully it's a burning hot day on Sunday, and we can get them worn out fast. We're used to the heat. Yesterday it rained and made me cold. I wasn't used to that.
"It's going to be exciting. It's going to be a special day. For us to play at home against the Cincinnati Bengals – with it being my first game at home outside of preseason – starting or back up or playing certain situations, it's pretty special to be able to put on that Buccaneer uniform and play in my home city. It's going to feel good to play in front of the home crowd."