Johnathan Joseph spent three months on his couch beeping the Bengals to a Madden Super Bowl win while bonding with his five-year-old son.
"He thought he was playing," Joseph said, "but I had it on Coach's Mode."
Make no mistake. The Bengals coaches are in up mode when it comes to Joseph, one of their prized starting cornerbacks that says he's at his healthiest since he was selected as the team's first pick in the 2006 draft.
"Solid. One hundred percent," he says, going through workouts again after missing half the games last season. "I think the best thing was staying on the couch for three months."
One hundred percent.
It is a number Joseph has rarely seen when it comes to his health.
That's why he planted himself on the divan immediately following Dec. 3 surgery on his right foot to repair a recurring stress fracture that wiped out the last six games. But the pain stretched all the way back to June 2, 2007 during a minicamp practice he originally suffered the break.
"I came back too soon," Joseph admits. "It began to feel better around the middle of the year, but I knew at some point I was going to need surgery again."
It broke again in the 13-13 tie against the Eagles this past Nov. 16, which is a bit ironic because the game sums up his career so far. Early in the OT he was exactly where he was supposed to be to pick off quarterback Donovan McNabb and return it for the sudden victory. Instead, it was his 49th career pass defensed instead of his sixth career interception.
"He knows he's got to catch the ball. He's working on his hands," says secondary coach Kevin Coyle. "If Johnathan Joseph is healthy, I have no doubt that he can make explosive plays like other impact corners in this league. That's what he does. He has that athleticism. With the injuries behind him, this is the year he has to do that."
If Joseph can trump what he did as a rookie with the terrific closing speed that netted him 19 pass breakups and if Leon Hall continues to relentlessly progress into an upper echelon technician, the Bengals feel like they've got a cornerback tandem that can compete with most any in the NFL.
"The big thing for me is to stay healthy, things stay quiet, and I just go out and do my job," Joseph says. "When I play, I'm productive. I've got (49) pass breakups and (178) tackles, so when I'm on the field, I'll produce. But I've got to stay on the field."
Joseph offers no excuses for last year, when he missed virtually four of the first five games with a high ankle sprain even before the break.
None for the miserable game in Houston when Andre Johnson went off and Kevin Walter went down and Joseph still hasn't touched either. And none for the huge third-down play against the Steelers back in October when he had a pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes on his hip and let it get by for a back-breaking completion.
He also had some big moments. With the Jaguars trying to tie the game late with a two-point conversion, Joseph quickly batted down a slant to preserve the first victory of the season.
But Coyle figures of Joseph's 30 NFL starts, he's been healthy for only about half of them. And none for last year's seven starts.
"I'm not making excuses for him because he has to play better and he knows he has to play better, but I don't think there is any question that him not being 100 percent has been a factor in his play," Coyle says. "We haven't seen that real explosive athleticism that we saw that first year. But as a cornerback, you've got to have confidence in your feet. That's what you use to drive off and break on the ball, and if it's not 100 percent, and you have to do things a little different mechanically, it's going to affect you."
Joseph is pleased with the surgery. A piece of his hip bone was grafted into the fracture, as well as a larger screw, and he's been flying around Paul Brown Stadium, even getting into the post-workout basketball games. The three months on the couch (he began walking around on Valentine's Day) not only reenergized the foot, but brought him time with his oldest and his newborn.
And he feels kind of like a newborn himself.
"I feel like I did when they first draft me," Joseph says. "I feel rested, there's no pain. Now is the time."