WVU football: Joseph adds some weight to battle wear and tear
MORGANTOWN, W.Va - Karl Joseph made football look so simple last season, as the safety led West Virginia University in tackles, forced fumbles and interceptions as a true freshman.
He struggled, however, with recall.
Joseph ranked behind only linebacker Terence Garvin in snaps played on defense last season and was known to play every single down in most games. Exactly how many games is a mystery, even for someone who carries an iPad so he can watch film from all of last season's games.
"Except for the ones early on in the year, pretty much all of them," Joseph said. "I don't like coming out anyway."
Joseph didn't have that luxury in 2013, playing 890 of a possible 992 snaps on defense and covering every punt. Remarkably, Joseph started and ended the season weighing about 195 pounds, but the season wore on him. Silently, he was increasingly sore and needed more time in the training room and more ice on the joints and limbs. Joe DeForest, then the safeties coach and defensive coordinator and now the special teams coordinator, saw it happening and wanted to steal Joseph some rest.
Yet it never happened and the Mountaineers never found a backup free safety. When they needed to replace injured and ineffective Darwin Cook at bandit safety, they actually moved reserve cornerback Cecil Level to the back end of the defense.
The 5-foot-10 Joseph, who ranked No. 14 nationally last year with 76 solo tackles, now weighs about 205 pounds and would like to add some backup this season, too.
"I think so but that's on the coaches whether they take me out or not," Joseph said. "I don't really ask them to take me out."
So much so that Joseph said he can't remember ever asking to come out of a game. That might not change and it's plausible Joseph's playing time will remain consistent. K.J. Dillon played just a little last season and a handful of freshmen will get a look when the Mountaineers return to camp early next month. Joseph, though, would rather stay on the field as much as possible and worry about finding ways to maintain a high level of performance.
"It's very hard, especially with the high tempo offenses in the league," Joseph said. "But the strength coaches make sure we're in shape and in good condition. Right now, I feel like I could play as many snaps as I need to."
The Big 12 offered a much different culture last year than the Big East did previously, but Joseph was making an even larger leap coming straight from high school. As good as the competition may have been in Orlando, Fla., it didn't compare to what Joseph encountered in college. The games in high school were shorter and the play was nowhere near as frenetic. He witnessed Marshall snap 101 times for 545 yards in his first college game.
It would only get crazier as the season progressed and the defense regressed. Opponents had 70 or more snaps six other times and WVU wound up defending more plays than all but 12 Division I teams.
"The Iowa State game was very cold," Joseph said. "The cold weather definitely got to me."
That was the 11th game of the season and Joseph was used to marathons. He had career-high 13 tackles and recovered a fumble against the Cyclones. That fumble was significant. Cook rushed forward from the secondary and hit running back Jeff Woody near the goal line. Joseph pounced and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback. The offense ran out the clock to win the game, snap a five-game losing streak and reach bowl eligibility.
Joseph learned there was no place, let alone any use, for getting rest during play. Even if a run or a quick pass to the left was quickly stopped, that couldn't stop Joseph from running from deep on the right side of the field toward the action.
"If you try to get a rest when you're on the field, it's going to look terrible," Cook said. "Even if you jog to the ball, you're going to get tired because of the equipment and the heat and all of that. You might as well run. You might make something happen, too."
Joseph was good at that, oftentimes knocking opponents over as he rushed to join a scrum and once against Texas arriving in time to strike hard and force a fumble.
"I try not to take plays off," Joseph said. "You don't know what's going to happen over there or if a guy is going to break a tackle. You could end up making a tackle."
Lessons like that learned last season should be applied to next season. The Mountaineers figure to have more depth on defense, but they also stand to benefit from their experiences. Four players saw more than 700 snaps and Cook, Joseph and Isaiah Bruce return for 2013, as well as four others who played at least 500 snaps.
Much of the offseason work in the winter and now in the summer is spent on conditioning. The style and the speed of the Big 12 offenses aren't going to change, so it's up to WVU to keep pace.
"We know more about the things we need to do, but last year we just went through it like we went through it before," Cook said. "Now we see more plays and there's more wear and tear on the body. During the week you've got to do a better job getting in the treatment room, getting more ice, getting rest, all those things."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.