MANKATO, Minn. –He has more than 20 NFL seasons under his belt, but Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has never before come across a player quite like Linval Joseph.
Zimmer is entering his 24th season and fourth with Joseph in Minnesota. He quipped that he'd like to "get a lot more" players of Joseph's composition.
"His strength and size, and you know, he's a really good athlete," Zimmer said of the defensive tackle.
"I don't know that I've ever had a guy [like him]," Zimmer added. "Most of the guys are thicker and shorter than he is. But he's the best athlete that I can think of, that I've been involved with, at that spot."
Statistically, the 2016 season was the best yet for Joseph, who entered the league as a second-round selection with the Giants in 2010.
Joseph notched 4.0 sacks for just the second time in his career, three of them coming in the first three games of the season. In addition, he racked up 100 total tackles (coaches' tally), 7.0 tackles for loss, 36 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles en route to his first career Pro Bowl nod.
When asked about his performance, however, Joseph said he just wants to "keep grinding" and help the team reach its ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.
Zimmer said that Joseph's attitude reflects his personality.
"He's a good person, number one," Zimmer said. "He wants to be really good, he probably works as hard as anybody in the offseason. I think he cares an awful lot about the guys around him – [defensive line coach] Andre Patterson does a good job preaching all that.
"But hopefully all of our guys on defense kind of feel the same way, that it's not about individual statistics; it's about us collectively doing our job," Zimmer continued. "Linval is the best one I've ever been around."
Joseph doesn't stop seeking improvement.
He's a beast against the run, but even with the increased sack totals, he's intent on becoming a better pass rusher.
Defensive end Brian Robison said he recognizes "a lot of good things" from his linemate against the pass, even though it's not often the area of his game more lauded.
"He can definitely do it," Robison said of Joseph. "We've just been blessed by a bunch of guys here who can really rush the passer."
He continued that having Joseph on the field on first- or second-down plays in which a play-action play is called works to the Vikings advantage.
"It's really hard for guys to stop him because you have to make the decision if you're going to double him up or you're going to work out to an end or something like that," Robison said. "So his strength and his athleticism on the inside really helps him on those play-action passes."
Robison added: "It's about knowing your job and knowing what the guys in front of you are doing, but at the same time, he's just so strong and such a big guy for us in there, that a lot of times he just manhandles guys."
Vikings center Nick Easton can testify first-hand to the destruction that follows Joseph.
Easton has had plenty of practice against Joseph during first-team reps and said he poses a daily challenge.
"When you play against a guy that good, you have no choice but to get better yourself," Easton said.
As Joseph enters this season with specific goals in mind, he knows that Zimmer and the rest of his team have complete trust in his abilities on the field.
And as always, first things first.
"You have to stop the run before you go after the pass," Joseph said. "So right now I'm just trying to trigger, trying to find keys. And I have a feeling it's going to be a great year."