Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Davin Joseph will still be playing football in late January. The Buccaneers' 2011 playoff hopes didn't come to pass, but Joseph now has a postseason game of another variety on his schedule.
On Tuesday, the NFL announced its rosters for the 2012 Pro Bowl, and for the second time in four seasons, Joseph has made the NFC squad. He is one of three offensive guards selected for the team, along with Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks of the New Orleans Saints.
Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris informed Joseph of the honor on Tuesday evening, not long before the Pro Bowl rosters were announced on the NFL Network. Joseph took the news as a validation of the hard work all of his offensive line teammates have put in this season.
"It comes as a surprise," said Joseph. "Up front, we've been working hard all year, just challenging each other, from Game One to Game 16. It wasn't anything I really expected. We've all been playing good up front, and this is just a great representation of the group of guys I play with. I wouldn't be here without them. I want to say thank you to God, number one, and of course thank you to my teammates and coaches, and everybody that has helped me this season."
This marks the second straight season that the Buccaneers re-signed one of their offensive linemen to a long-term deal in the summer, only to see that player respond with an all-star season in the fall. On July 29, 2011, Joseph agreed to a new seven-year pact designed to keep the former first-round pick in Tampa through at least 2017. One year earlier, left tackle Donald Penn had inked a new six-year deal just before training camp then went on to produce the first Pro Bowl campaign of his career.
A Pro Bowl berth to match Penn's wasn't Joseph's goal after his new contract, but he did fell motivated to work harder than ever.
"I just wanted to have a positive season," he said. "It didn't really matter if it was Pro Bowl, no Pro Bowl. Every year there are a lot of great players that just don't make the cut. It really didn't matter what my individual accomplishments were this season; I was just aiming at the playoffs, number one. This year we fell short of that. My motivation is still the same: Getting better. This isn't exactly what I want, but of course I appreciate it very much, because it's a great representation of some of the positives that are going on within our organization. I have to say, though, I'd trade it in for 10 wins. If I could hand this back for 10 wins, I'd give it right back."
Of course, the 6-3, 313-pound Joseph, a barrel-chested mauler in the run game, had already been recognized as an NFL all-star before his new deal this summer. In 2008, he became the first guard ever drafted by Tampa Bay to make it to the Pro Bowl as a Buccaneer; the only other guard on the list, period, was former Minnesota Viking Randall McDaniel, who made it to his 11th consecutive all-star game as a Buc in 2000. The only other offensive lineman of any type who was drafted by Tampa Bay and later played in the all-star game as a Buc was center Tony Mayberry, who made the trip to Hawaii three times.
Joseph will play in his second Pro Bowl on Sunday, January 29, 2012 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Following decades of staging the game on the Sunday following the Super Bowl, the NFL recently moved it to the weekend before the big game. Super Bowl XLVI will be played in Indianapolis on Sunday, February 5.
Joseph has started all 15 games at right guard for the Buccaneers this season and has helped the team produce an effective running game when it has had the opportunity to stick to it. Unfortunately, a series of early deficits have marginalized the Bucs' rushing attack many weekends, but the team is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, 13th-best in the NFL. Joseph has been recognized again this year as one of the NFL's top run-blockers. For instance, an article on ProFootballWeekly.com placing Joseph on their midseason All-Pro team said Joseph, "plays with great power and physicality. Joseph's huge hands and long arms enable him to gain leverage in pass protection, and he can be a dominant run blocker."
The Bucs' pass protection has also been stellar for much of the 2011 season. Tampa Bay has surrendered 30 sacks and ranks ninth in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed per pass play this year.
Joseph first joined the Buccaneers as a first-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2006. Though his rookie season was delayed by a few games by a preseason injury, he has essentially been a starter at right guard since Day One. Overall, he has played in 83 games and started 82 of them.
Obviously, the Buccaneers envision Joseph starting many more games as an anchor on their front line, and hopefully making additional trips to the Pro Bowl. Tampa Bay management has placed an emphasis on drafting, developing and maintaining its own talent, and obviously wants to see its top draft picks develop into elite NFL players. That sort of draft-and-develop plan worked for the franchise in the mid-90s, when such first-round picks as Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Trent Dilfer and Warrick Dunn all made it to the Pro Bowl. Other high draft picks who made it to the all-star game during that era included Mike Alstott (second round), Ronde Barber (third), Donnie Abraham (third) and John Lynch (third).
For Joseph, this individual honor that he wants to share with his teammates is an indication that such efforts are headed in the right direction.
"It just shows that we are working hard as a team," he said. "Even though things aren't panning out into wins this season, we do have some things that are going in the right direction. Sometimes, coaches get a tough rap, but this is just one example of our coaching staff really doing the job, putting me in a position to look good every week. I rely on my coaches a lot, and of course the guys I play right next to. This isn't just an individual thing. It's a group thing, because the O-Line is one big group. When one does well, we all do well."