Johnathan Joseph was a revelation in Houston in 2011, playing a very solid season of cornerback after jumping to the Texans as a free agent addition.
Pro Football Focus graded him a plus-11.3 in coverage, and their numbers put him tied for ninth overall in the league among cornerbacks.
Last year, with groin and hamstring injuries, he posted only a plus-2.5 in coverage and was 43rd overall.
But it wasn’t just the groin and hamstring problems that held him back.
After the season he had surgery to repair sports hernias on both sides.
I wondered how hard it was for him to know he wasn’t right, to not play up to his standards and not to be able to say so as he endured last season.
“You have to just block it out mentally, you have to just put up a wall,” he said. “You’ve got to have confidence in yourself. Obviously the team knows what’s going on, you’ve just got to block the outside world out.
“You want to be sound. You don’t want to be banged up, nicked up. You have to go out and play through it. If you have good teammates, maybe you being at 85 instead of 100 percent, maybe that’s better than another situation, whatever that may be.”
Joseph isn’t sure when he actually suffered the hernias. He started feeling something in practice and didn’t think much about it as he was dealing with the other injuries. But particularly near the end of practices and games he said he could feel a strain right underneath his navel.
“There is only so much you can do to protect that area,” he said. “I didn’t try to hide anything, I didn’t really know about it myself until after the Pro Bowl."
The Texans' other starting cornerback, Kareem Jackson, had a sports hernia at Alabama, and he told Joseph that could be what he had.
“The injury is the result of avulsion or tears in the muscle fibers in the lower abdomen,” according to the national council on strength and fitness.
(He was never listed on an injury report with an abdominal injury, just with groin, knee, quad and hamstring injuries, per KFFL.)
“Sure enough when I went to see the doctor after the season, he told me that I had 30 percent tears on both sides,” Joseph said.
Playing through those show a great deal of toughness. But it would have been nice if the Texans had the sort of depth at cornerback where resting him was more of a possibility.
Surgery was painful, he said, and recovery required he not make any quick, sudden movements. Just laughing hurt.
Joseph said the injury-riddled season was more bad luck than anything.
With Joseph healthy, the Texans expect a player closer to the 2011 version than the 2012 version.
Jackson really blossomed last season, so Houston could have a top tandem at cornerback.
“I think we should be right up there with the top ones when you look around the league,” Joseph said. “Overall body of work, when you look at the responsibilities we have on our defense, I think we’re right there with anyone else you’d have at the top.”