NASHVILLE – Much has changed during Johnathan Joseph’s 14 seasons in the NFL.
One thing has not.
“I think just a love of the game,” he said recently. “… You have to work for it and still go out and put in the work, and I enjoy it. That’s the best part about football – the grind.”
A few weeks removed from his 36th birthday, the free agent cornerback is the oldest player on the Tennessee Titans roster (he is 22 months older than punter Brett Kern, the team’s next most senior player)
Since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970, fewer than 300 players have appeared in 200 or more contests. Joseph joined that group in final week of the 2019 regular season, when he faced the Titans as a member of the Houston Texans. He started that day but sustained a hamstring injury early and was on the field for just seven snaps with the defense.
Some might have seen the combination of the milestone and the injury as an opportunity to walk away. For Joseph, who has played at least 13 games in 10 of the last 11 years, it was just another reason to get back to the grind, as he calls it.
“I think I do a great job of training in the offseason, taking care of my body, trying to stay ahead of the curve,” he said. “This league is always about getting young. I think you have to do more the older you get. Some people think it’s the opposite way, but I think it’s the more you do [the better]. You have to stay ahead of the curve.”
He concedes he is probably not as fast as he once was but notes he counters the physical decline with an ability – acquired through experience – to quickly digest any situation that arises during a game.
And while this offseason – with team facilities closed for a period of months and a virtual start to organized offseason activities – is something completely new for the NFL, Joseph can look back on his career for something comparable to help him. He and Kern are the only players currently under contract with the Titans who were in the league in 2011, when the entire offseason prior to training camp was wiped away because owners locked out players in a labor dispute.
“When we had the lockout, some guys kind of relaxed and some guys [were] taking it easy, playing it out by ear,” Joseph said. “Some guys still [were] going full throttle and working out as usual. I think that’s the approach you have to take.”
In that way, this is just another offseason for Johnathan Joseph.
“The offseason, the buildup and everything else – that’s the grind,” Joseph said. “Ever since a young age when I was back in high school, I’d been having that mentality and it’s carried me throughout the way. It’s kind of made just the NFL life for me honestly a little easier, because I never looked at it like, ‘Oh man, I have to go work, or do this.’ It’s just been a part of my process and my thought mentality.
“For me, it’s just easy. Just go out there and push yourself and your body will let you know when you need to cut back on it.”
Maybe – someday – it will even tell him when to call it a career. If it has already, he has not listened.