For the last two days, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has been in a spot he hasn’t experienced since his two-year tenure as head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2017-2018: talking to the media following a game and the day after.
With COVID-19 knocking head coach Kliff Kingsbury out of Sunday’s matchup in Cleveland, Joseph shared head coaching responsibilities with special-team coordinator/assistant head coach Jeff Rodgers.
Joseph was expansive and forthright about what he and the team faced heading to Sunday’s dominating 37-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Given what had transpired during the week, Joseph was asked simply if this was one of the most gratifying victories he’d ever been part of.
Without hesitation, he said, “I would say yes. I mean, it was a troubled week with the positive test starting on Wednesday with Chandler (Jones) and obviously Coach popping positive on Friday, him and Cam (quarterbacks coach Cam Turner) and Zach Allen also on Friday and Corey Peters on Sunday morning. So, yes, it was a tough week.
“But our team leaders and our coaches all responded the right way. No one blinked, no one was troubled by the news of Coach being positive. The staff on Friday night kind of pulled together and talked through the offensive system to call the game the proper way. And nothing changed. The guys were focused, they played hard, they played fast and it was a fun game to watch the guys play.”
General manager Steve Keim also tested positive late in the week as did two unidentified staff members earlier. With the news of Peters’ positive test, Joseph said “was a huge help for us” that the game was at 4:05 Cleveland time rather than 1 pm.
“Sunday morning was stressful,” Joseph acknowledged. “Testing on on Saturday before we traveled, that was stressful and getting up Sunday morning and having more tests and their results didn't come back until about 10:30. When the call came in on Corey, I was on a bus going to the game.”
Kenny Bell, the assistant to Kingsbury, had suggested that one of the practice-squad defensive linemen travel to Cleveland in case there was another positive from the defensive line group. That player was Jonathan Ledbetter, who had signed on Sept. 3.
Joseph quickly got on the phone when he received the Peters new.
“Jon didn't know he was dressing until the first bus was leaving,” Joseph said. “So I called him in his room and he was ready to go and he played good, guys. He played 10 snaps and played good football. That speaks to Coach Buck (defensive line coach Brentson Buckner) and his room and having those young guys ready to go. But again, Sunday was very, very stressful for everyone involved because we had no idea who was gonna be positive after Saturday's events.”
Much of the stress was the result of daily testing that began as the team piled up positive tests.
Said Joseph, “Before this week, everyone tests once a week, so it wasn't as stressful. We test on Mondays and players test on, I think, Tuesdays, so once you got past Tuesday, you felt good about the week. But last week with having positives in the building on Wednesday, it put everyone back to those testing protocols, and we kind of knew that someone was going to be positive. We had no idea who it was going to be, so that added to the stress.”
Comparing it to 2020, he said, “Last year, we tested every day, so we knew every single day who was positive and who was negative. So last year, even though there weren’t vaccinations, in my opinion it was less stress because we knew daily who was positive and who was negative. Now with the once-a-week testing, it's been really tough. Once you got past Monday, Tuesday, you had no idea who was positive, from Wednesday to Sunday to Monday to a test again. So, last year was obviously a tough season. But the testing daily gave us a clear mind on who was positive on a daily basis.”
The good news is there were no additional positives reported Monday.
Joseph stressed the importance of following “the new protocols we have in place. We're hoping our players take it serious and wear their masks. COVID is not going away, so we have to obviously do a good job of staying with the protocols and wearing our masks, keeping the hygiene up and doing the best we can with COVID because it's not going anywhere.”
He’s hoping that several days can pass without a positive test, so testing will revert to the previous protocols.
He said, “Once the positive test happened on Wednesday, everyone tested again on Thursday, stress, Friday, more stress, Saturday, more stress, and obviously Sunday more stress. So hopefully after this week, we get back to normal protocols, which is testing once a week for the players and once a week for the coaches.”