Posted: 4:10 a.m.
JosephJohnathan Joseph doesn't believe in sophomore slumps. But he knows in his second season he's having one.
Asked to compare 2007 to that rookie year he led the team in passes defensed while wowing everyone with his closing speed, Joseph agreed.
"Night and day; anybody can see that," Joseph said after Wednesday's practice. "I can't count on last year to get me through this year. They get paid the same amount of money we do to do their job. You're going to win some and you're going to lose some. We just have to win more than we lose. That's the main thing."
Joseph, drafted in the first round as a cornerback who was supposed to be one of the linchpins of Carson Palmer's just-be-good-enough defense, looks like he's lost more than he's won after that rookie year leading the team in 19 passes defensed.
Like everyone else on defense, Joseph's woes started in the Cleveland massacre in Game 2 when he gave up a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Winslow down the middle of the field and his whiffed tackle contributed to a Jamal Lewis 31-yard run.
Reasons? A lack of aggressiveness? A foot still hurting from the stress fracture that kept him out of the first three weeks of training camp, limited him during the preseason, and forced him to come off the bench in the opener?
"I'm searching right now just like you. I'm searching myself right now trying to figure out what the problem is right or wrong just like everyone else is," Joseph said. "(The foot) is healed up. I don't know if it's because of missing training camp because it's the first time I've experienced it. I've still got another half of the season."
It's thought that Joseph was bothered by the foot early on and that it hobbled him as he tried to come back from the June 2 injury. Now even though he's physically right the Bengals coaches think he's still working his way back from the time he lost in camp. He also lost a week in the middle of it all when he was suspended for the Oct. 14 Kansas City game stemming from his January arrest on marijuana possession.
Privately, the late suspension bothered Joseph because he felt it was so far removed from the incident that people thought he had been arrested again when in reality he had gone through all the steps to get the case resolved.
Head coach Marvin Lewis, of course, won't let him get off that easily.
Lewis "He's trying too hard. Last week he played a pretty good football game but he got beat," Lewis said. "Out there at that corner position last week, he gets his hands on the guy and gets Lee (Evans) inside, and he's going to guess on the route. And it's not that route. And so those are the things you've got to continue to reinforce to him: Don't do too much. Do what you need to do within the scope of the coverage and let the thing happen."
It was on the second play of the game in Buffalo that Evans went 38 yards on Joseph to begin a 165-yard day aimed primarily at him. There were times he had good coverage, but plays were still made, such as the eight-yard touchdown pass in the corner that was close enough to be challenged and a third-and-four late in the first half that still resulted in Evans' leaping 23-yard catch.
"He has good coverage there on the third-down play. And he's all over the guy, the ball's up and away, and we don't get the safety to take the ball off of him," Lewis said. "So there's some things that are recurring, but he did do some good things within the football game, and he can't allow those negative things to creep into his mind. Those demons of, 'Well, I didn't do this.' And then you start jumping and guessing, and then you're really in trouble out there."
Joseph clearly felt the demons Wednesday as he candidly discussed his struggles with the media, chin in hand and one leg up on his stool. This is one of the reasons why the club thinks he'll eventually be OK.
"I don't believe in a sophomore slump. What's a sophomore slump?" he asked. "We're losing as a team. We're not 8-0, are we? It's just a thing you go through. It seems to be a snowball effect. But we can't let it happen and just continue to fight it and correct it."
The coaches don't see people running away from Joseph and they haven't given up on him because he's just too physically talented. Joseph knows it, too.
"Technique, technique, technique," he said. "Anybody can beat anyone in this league if you don't use the correct technique ... I don't think it's picking on anyone. Go around the league and you see guys who are the best cover guys in the league get picked on."
BrooksBACKER ROULETTE: Name the eight players who have started at middle linebacker for the Bengals in Marvin Lewis' 73 games as head coach and you win a shake of the head from Lewis.
The Bengals suffered another setback in their bid to solidify the position when Ahmad Brooks' season ended Wednesday on injured reserve, and with an appointment next week for surgery to repair his torn groin.
Brooks, a third-round pick in the supplemental draft in 2006, was supposed to finally have enough football under him and enough athleticism to go a long way in helping offset the loss of Odell Thurman. But that blew up when he pulled his groin early in Game 2 and never saw the field again.
It's this lack of consistency in the middle that Lewis believes has hurt his defense's ability to get turned around during the five seasons.
"It'll be a trivia question someday; all these things are factors," Lewis said. "When you have different guys all the time, it obviously plays a part. There is no solution when guys are injured. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it's been. The position is the Ghost of Takeo (Spikes), I guess. It's haunted. It's been an interesting thing. Anyway, it is what it is, and we've got to go on."
The Bengals are crossing their fingers that Brooks finally gets it. They've been frustrated at times and some teammates question his seriousness and focus. But the Bengals also realize the guy has a serious injury, he's extremely talented, and he made a big improvement in work habits from year one to year two.
"Some guys can tolerate it. Some can't. You can tear it. It's very painful," Lewis said. "You need about six weeks or eight weeks to recover. It just depends on the particular person. They'll do the surgery. It's about a six or eight-week recovery time or inactivity before you get back to where everything's fine."
The problem is when Brooks shows up for his third training camp, he'll only have 13 NFL games under his belt.
"It's been harder on him than us," Lewis said. "In some ways, maybe, this is a good thing that he's had to learn and go about this the right way. He's had to attend meetings and learn, and learn how to be a professional because he's a young kid. He really is. He could conceivably still be at the University of Virginia right now.
"So this is in some ways is a good thing for him, maybe. Because it allows him to grow up and become the man and the player that he'll be. He made a lot of strides. It's unfortunate that he's just not been able to come back from this. Every time we rest him and give him time to let it heal, and then when he tries to do something, he can't. It's just time for this move."
Naturally, Middle Backer No. 8, Anthony Schlegel (back) didn't practice Wednesday and weakside backer Landon Johnson reprised his 2004 role in the middle.
So you've got four of them. The other four middle backers to start under Lewis joining Brooks, Thurman, Schlegel and Johnson are Kevin Hardy, Brian Simmons, Nate Webster and Caleb Miller. Miller started the week after Brooks got hurt but hasn't practiced since that Sept. 23 game following a back injury.
GM TALK: With a debate raging about the lack of a Bengals general manager, Ravens head coach Brian Billick was asked Wednesday by the Cincinnati media if he could do both. In nine seasons teamed with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Billick is 84-60.
"I couldn't imagine it," Billick said. "Someone would have to be more capable than me. The follow through and attention to detail in either job, I can't imagine it."
The problem in comparing the two is that Lewis doesn't do both, either. Lewis, who worked under Newsome and Billick, gets heavily involved in personnel and has input in the other aspects.
The Bengals split the GM job among the trio of Mike Brown, the club's president who is the final say on personnel; executive vice president Katie Blackburn, the team's chief contact negotiator and salary cap cruncher; and vice president for business development Troy Blackburn, who negotiates the free-agent contracts.
Lewis has high regard for Newsome, still talks to him regularly, and models his philosophy on what he learned from Newsome in their seven years together.
If the Bengals are looking to add to the personnel department (and it's not something that appears to be on the table) the one thing they could probably use is a guy that focuses primarily on pro personnel so that can free up the college scouts more.