Cornerback Kelvin Joseph was back at practice on Thursday, a full participant after missing the Cowboys’ Wednesday session due to dental surgery.
The obvious irony is that watching Joseph struggle through his second pro season has been a little like getting a root canal for most Cowboys fans up to this point.
Joseph’s eight penalties are tied with rookie offensive lineman Tyler Smith for most on the team. The difference, of course, is that Smith’s eight flags have come over 1,162 snaps played. Joseph has done it in 450.
But then there’s the kinds of penalties Joseph is drawing. A face mask call against the Giants in Week 3. Unnecessary roughness in Week 6 against Philadelphia. An illegal blindside block. An illegal block above the waist. Two flags for fair catch interference just in the month of December.
Head coach Mike McCarthy takes a more patient stance than most fans, but acknowledges that the 23-year-old needs to clean things up.
“The biggest thing when you look at mistakes: behavioral mistakes or discipline mistakes or physical mistakes, they all kind of fall into a category. When I look at the interference- even live, talking to the officials- he’s trying to do it right,” McCarthy said the day after the team’s Week 17 win over Tennessee, which include one of those fair catch fouls.
“They don’t use the ‘halo’ approach anymore, but it is a good teaching tool for the amount of room you’ve got to give the returner the opportunity to catch the ball. In his mind, he established his position, and then the returner moved forward right at the end of it. I chalk that up as a tough learning experience for a young player. But, yeah, the number of penalties, we’ve got to be better there.”
Once expected to step up and play starting corner after season-ending injuries to both Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown, Joseph got torched when given more of an opportunity on defense against Indianapolis, Houston, and Jacksonville.
But the Cowboys have stuck by Joseph, even dating back to the March shooting that left a man dead outside a Dallas club. Joseph was identified as a person of interest to police, but only after surveillance camera footage released weeks later linked him to the incident. Two men from Joseph’s hometown were subsequently arrested; there have been no further developments since.
Joseph himself has not spoken publicly about the episode, but he hasn’t exactly let his play this season do much speaking for him either.
At least not the good kind.
“I wouldn’t call it frustrating. I would say that’s the way it goes. Some draft picks- even though they’re high draft picks- take time. Some draft picks don’t get there like you want them to,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on Dec. 20 of Joseph’s progression (or lack thereof). “We’re now getting down to the point, where we get to that playoff, and it’s win-or-go-home, that we’ve got to put more emphasis on being able to play that day, that way, against that team. And so we’ve got to not look at the future and look more at right now, this afternoon. What gives us the best chance?”
In recent weeks, it’s been practically every healthy cornerback not named Kelvin Joseph.
Nahshon Wright, selected 55 picks after Joseph, and fifth-round rookie DaRon Bland have both surpassed him- if not on the official depth chart, then at least in the minds of Cowboys Nation- and relegated him mainly to special teams duty.
And while the Cowboys coaching staff has had good things to say about Joseph’s performance on that unit overall, they also admit that drawing a penalty flag on nearly two percent of his plays is causing some gnashing of teeth, especially given the stakes at a time of year when one momentary lapse can send an entire team home for good.
“I do feel Kelvin is a lot more engaged in that because he does play at an extremely high level of physicality,” McCarthy said. “But, yeah, the discipline part of it is something that he can be better in.”