WVU football: Joseph plays through pain
MORGANTOWN - More than an hour after Tuesday night's football practice at West Virginia, Karl Joseph climbed the stairs that led away from the team's locker room and medical training area and took him to the team auditorium.
There, the freshman safety was the last of the Mountaineers to meet with the media.
This was both good and bad news for WVU. The interview was the last of anyone's worries. The time Joseph needed before it was more important.
Five games into his first season, he's combating soreness and Tuesday took extra time to address his neck and shoulders. Play the way he played against Texas and that will happen. Play every snap of two consecutive games and it will accumulate a little quicker.
What seems ominous is also promising, though. WVU really wants Joseph to take care of himself and that means taking the extra time before and after games and practices - even on off days to keep fit. The Mountaineers want the starter who's been so good the first five games to be around for the final eight.
"There's no question we have to be careful with him because he plays so hard," defensive coordinator and safeties coach Joe DeForest said. "The longer we get into this league and the more plays he's going to play, he may get worn down by the end of the season if we don't limit him. We have to do a better job; I have to do a better job of getting him out of there. Sometimes that's hard to do."
This is DeForest's dilemma and it's better understood by looking at recent precedent. As the fifth-ranked Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) visit Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (WCHS telecast), they do so with an eye on Andrew Buie.
The running back carried 31 times against Texas and 25 a week before against Baylor and Coach Dana Holgorsen, who has lost one running back to injury already this season, wonders how much more Buie can take.
As a freshman in 2011, Buie absorbed hits like a sponge on a spill and couldn't stay in the lineup. He's 20 pounds stronger and thicker now and he can recover quicker, but this wasn't the case last season.
Joseph is much the same. He's played all 170 snaps on defense, and a few more on special teams, the past two games and managed 16 tackles. Yet with Joseph, tackles are often events and that 5-foot-11, 195-pound body can feel it as much as it can deal it.
"It's football," he said. "You've got to go all-out every play, every game. You can't really save yourself. That's just how I play."
The Mountaineers are fine with that, though to an extent and not to an extreme. DeForest wants see Joseph pick his spots, which means knowing the time and the place for a technical tackle instead of a missile launch.
Yet WVU doesn't want to see Joseph slowing up and trying to protect himself because that's when bad things can happen to the player and the defense.
Joseph also happens to be one of the defense's most explosive players, someone who's starting to get more and more in the blitz package, someone who can tackle a tight end one-on-one or a running back in the open field, someone who can use a big hit to separate the ball from the opponent.
He is, quite frankly, a force the Mountaineers can apply to the opponent.
"We want every aggressive bone in his body getting after people," DeForest said.
Joseph obliges. He screams around end to stop the run in the backfield or race up the line to track down the running back. He times his blitz to get to the quarterback or at least jump up to bat down a pass. He'll tackle his opponent, or he'll tackle his teammate who's tackling an opponent, and he'll do both with force.
Joseph doesn't cover the brake when he's on the field. He sips Gatorade with an edge.
"I try to intimidate people a lot, especially by being physical," he said. "As many chances as I get to intimidate someone, I try to do it."
He's going to keep getting those chances. The Mountaineers are thin in the secondary and at Joseph's position. Matt Moro hasn't played all season. Travis Bell has missed the past two games, which is a "huge" loss, according to DeForest. Ickey Banks, who was playing cornerback against Maryland, is now backing up Joseph.
WVU has a speedy pass defense package with extra defensive backs that it likes to use, but with everything going on in the defensive backfield, DeForest couldn't use it against Texas. That keeps Joseph on the field, which keeps him in position to not only make plays, but to add to the things that mount on a freshman's frame throughout the season.
"He's got to take care of his body, he's got to eat the right things, he's got to work out, he's got to get treatment, he's got to do all the things he can to help him stay healthy," DeForest said.
It's not so simple and Joseph sheepishly confesses early classes sometimes conspire against breakfast. He gets the big meal after practice, though, and tries to go to bed at a good hour.
He stays hydrated throughout the week so he doesn't cramp during the game. He knocks out weight lifting on Tuesday to get his strength back and then Thursday to make sure he's ready for what will happen Saturday and all the Saturdays to follow.
"It's no different than when we talk about the running back spot," Holgorsen said. "The more physical you are, the more you've got to be able to handle it. Tough guys can handle that and you need a tough guy to be physical and withstand the grind and be able to do it again the next week."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.