On Monday, the opening day of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' nine-week offseason workout program, Head Coach Greg Schiano spoke in general and positive terms about the players who were coming back from 2012 injuries. On Tuesday one of those players – two-time Pro Bowl guard and unquestioned team leader
"Rehab is over with," said Joseph. "[I'm] working out with the team, getting ready for the season, pushing with no limitations and just working on the little stuff. I’m just about where I need to be. I’m comfortable about where I’m at and confident that I’ll have no issues come OTA’s, minicamp and all that stuff.”
Joseph sustained a torn patellar tendon when a New England Patriots pass-rusher fell on his leg during the second quarter of a preseason game last August. He underwent surgery just three days later and was placed on injured reserve, effectively starting a countdown towards the start of the 2013 season. Joseph says there's no reason to watch the clock any longer.
“Time is on my side," he said. "There are no major hurdles, just working on the little things now getting into football shape, working on my strength coming out of the stance and things of that sort. It's the next phase just like any offseason: lifting, running, getting into football shape and getting ready to go."
Like any player, Joseph is pleased to be past the often solitary efforts of the rehab process and back in coordinated activity with his teammates. The Bucs will start the offseason program with two weeks of conditioning work and limited film-room meetings, then transition into individual-position drills on the field and, by mid-May, more complete practices during the organized team activity days (OTAs). Because he has made so much progress, Joseph won't have to hang back while his fellow Bucs get into peak training-camp shape.
“I [was] really missing the locker room and being able to interact with the guys every day," he said. "My schedule was a lot different than the 53 that were playing so I didn’t get to see those guys every day and didn’t get to interact with them every day. That was the hardest part really working in the same building just in a different part and being kind of isolated from those guys was the toughest part.”
Joseph has overcome injuries before. His second Pro Bowl season in 2011, in fact, came the season after he missed a third of the 2010 campaign with a broken foot. But he had never been forced to sit out an entire campaign before, and he had never been through a rehab process quite this difficult. Joseph, who is renowned in the Bucs' locker room for his determination and work ethic, actually found it difficult not to push too hard.
"As a football player and as an athlete you’re always challenging yourself to go through the pain, get through, fight through," he said. "If someone says you can’t do something it encourages you to do it even more. So the toughest part of rehab was listening. When they say, 'Don't do it,' it really means, 'Don’t do it.'
"When they give you a goal for that week, you hit that goal and don't push yourself too far. A lot of it is just having patience, and so it’s tough because you have to change your entire mindset. You have to listen, you have to learn, you have to have patience and every day is different. It’s not that steady rise it’s kind of up and down there are good days and bad days and so it was a challenge but I feel like I’ve succeeded and now I’m ready to take the next step.”
After so many important individual steps over the last eight months, the next one for Joseph is a collective one. He says the optimism and confidence level at One Buccaneer Place is higher than it has been in a long time, but he cautions his teammates to not take anything for granted.
“We can’t count our chickens before they hatch; we have to put in the work," he said, quickly reassuming a leadership role on the team. "Just because everything looks good on paper doesn’t mean that it’s going to turn out that way on Sundays, so we have to take a step back and start from Day One, Page One of how to get ready for a football season and not think we can skip pages and jump ahead. We just have to do things the right way and not get too excited for things to come.”