The Raiders still haven’t seen Karl Joseph at his rookie best.
That's understandable considering the first-round safety has been hampered by an ACL tear, surgery to repair it and subsequent rehab the last 11 months, with a typically long road back to 100 percent. The West Virginia product might look good to the untrained eye, but Joseph is his biggest critic. He turns on tape and finds flaw even in solid performance, ways to improve mentally and physically and, in time, realize full potential. Joseph is pretty darn good. Could be better.
He feels the same way about his knee. It’s come a long way, with a bit further to go. Part of distance can be covered physically. The other part’s about trust.
“It’s more of a self-conscious thing right now that I’m trying to work through,” Joseph said last week, before Thursday’s exhibition finale. “I don’t think about it too much, but it still needs to come along. It’s still healing and getting stronger. I don’t think about it too much on the field. When I watch tape I can see that it still doesn’t look as explosive yet, that it’s still coming along a little bit. It’s going to come. It’s just going to take a little time.”
He doesn’t view it as a real hindrance and believes he’s ready to play well in Sunday’s regular-season opener at New Orleans. He also believes he has made great strides since the summer started and he was cleared to resume practice and play.
“It’s giving me what I need to get the job done on the field,” Joseph said. “It’s still not where I want to be, not even close to where I want to be. I definitely see a lot of improvement since the beginning of training camp to now. I feel a lot different from the beginning of training camp to now, too.”
Joseph feels stronger, more confident in himself and his role. He is surrounded by mentors who have played safety at a high level, from Pro Bowl free safety Reggie Nelson to five-year starter Nate Allen to All-Pro secondary coach Marcus Robertson to Hall of Fame assistant secondary coach Rod Woodson.
Those resources have helped as Joseph attempts to surge forward as fast as possible despite playing a complex position while continuing to strengthen his knee. The goal was to be ready for Week 1, but Joseph never planned on peaking in September.
“Reggie, Nate (and the coaches) have been a big help for me in the mental part of the game as I continue to grow and develop as a player,” Joseph said. “That won’t stop now. It’s a long season. I’ll keep growing and building and climbing that mountain.
“I want to keep pushing and I want people to see that I improved every week in all aspects of the game, that I keep learning and fixing mistakes. That’s the goal, to just keep growing. As far as the physical part of the game with the injury, that will improve with time as I keep grinding through it.”
Joseph played 81 defensive snaps this preseason, including an exhibition-high 29 on Thursday against Seattle. The Raiders put the entire draft class through paces that night, and Joseph feels stronger for it, especially in areas he focused on this preseason.
“For the most part, I just (focused on) my eyes and the defense, learning where I fit and everything,” Joseph said after Thursday’s game. “I’ve made a lot of improvement this game then from last week. Last week I had some errors that I needed to fix, just focusing on my eyes and my gaps and everything like that. I think I definitely improved on that this game.”