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Linval Joseph's Appetite for Disruption Affects Vikings Opponents

The nose tackle often goes unnoticed in the game of football, but utter dominance by Linval Joseph versus the Rams last season was impossible to overlook.

A framed photo in a Winter Park hallway captured the essence of Joseph's performance.

A stunned Todd Gurley, still holding the football, is being helped from the turf by a nearby teammate after being taken down. Joseph's stance as he turns from his prey is a powerful one – arms outstretched, fingers splayed, lips still fiercely pursed beneath his facemask.

Joseph played his best game of 2015 against the Rams, when he helped Minnesota hold the team to just 18 points and come away with an overtime victory. He finished the contest with eight tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries and a shared sack with safety Andrew Sendejo.

"It was unbelievable for a defensive tackle to have [that many] tackles for loss," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "He single-handedly dominated that game and helped us to get a win."

Joseph isn't one who needs the limelight. He doesn't crave glory – he craves team success. During the 2015 season, however, a murmur started spread through the league, and for all the right reasons. It's become next to impossible to ignore Joseph's production as he wreaks havoc on opposing offenses.

"You can ask any O-lineman he goes against," safety Harrison Smith said. "He's just a nightmare."

In 28 games with the Vikings, Joseph has totaled 144 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 53 quarterback hurries. 

While stat lines don't always reflect a nose tackle's production, rest assured that work never stops on Joseph's watch. And his intense approach is not random.

"I start every play looking at the center, trying to figure out which way he's going to lean," Joseph explained. "I try to disrupt as much as possible. Just do my job, and let the play come to me.

"And then I eat."

Off the field, Joseph loves to cook, and he swears by his baked chicken. But come game time, he's hungry only for one thing: opponents.

Munnerlyn, who weighs 134 pounds less than Joseph and stands 7 inches shorter, said he continues to be amazed at Joseph's strength.

"Some of those plays he [makes] – those are grown men he's doing that to," Munnerlyn said. "He's putting those players in the gap, and he's making those plays."

In May, NFL Network unveiled its "Top 100 Players of 2016" – Joseph was voted in at No. 76 by his peers on the field, a sign of him gaining respect from those who can see his impact.

"You have to love to play football [to be a defensive tackle]," Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson said. "When you're a nose guard, nobody notices the dirty work that you do unless a team rushes for a bunch of yards against you.

"You have to love to play that position," Patterson added. "You have to love taking satisfaction knowing that you're doing a good job and not based on what people are saying about you. That's why it was phenomenal last year when Linval did get the attention that he got by how great he was playing."

Joseph's coaches aren't the only ones proud of the recognition he's receiving. Upon Joseph's inclusion in the Top 100, linebacker Anthony Barr said he believes Joseph is "the best player on our team, to be honest."

Even with the spotlight pointed directly at him, Joseph is a team-first player, deflecting individual attention as easily as offensive guards.

"It's team ball, to be honest with you," Joseph said. "Everybody has one job to do, and if you do your job, things come to you."

Joseph's mentality is one that Patterson preaches to all of his defensive linemen. Patterson is proud of the development he's seen from Joseph in the two-plus seasons he's coached him. According to the long-time coach, Joseph dedicated himself to becoming a student of the game and has become a technician, fine-tuning each and every piece of his game. It's a responsibility he takes seriously.

"Some guys play their position; they put their hands down, and they just play," Patterson said. "But when you really work on getting good at your craft, that's what makes you into a really good football player. And Linval's bought into that from day one."

Prior to joining the Vikings in 2014, Joseph spent four seasons with the Giants. Joseph helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLVI in his first season as a starter. Since arriving in Minnesota, the defensive tackle has only continued to improve and found in his niche in Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's defense.

Zimmer said there are a number of things he appreciates about Joseph, especially the way that his work ethic and love for the game shows up on the field. Zimmer sees more than just size, speed and strength, of which Joseph has plenty.

"He's just trying to get better," Zimmer said. "He's a good worker, and he cares about his teammates.

"He's a good kid to have around," Zimmer added.

The 2016 season will mark Minnesota's third of having Joseph around. Having missed four games in 2015 due to a toe injury, Joseph said he's feeling significantly more comfortable – both physically and mentally – in preparing to help the Vikings defend the NFC North title they reclaimed last year.

In 2015, the Vikings defense ranked fourth in red zone scoring (44.2 percent) and fifth in points allowed per game (18.9). With nearly all defensive starters returning – and all four on the defensive line – Joseph is eager to be back on the field with his teammates.

"I feel like all of these guys want to be great," Joseph said. "The whole coaching staff, the recruiting staff, [the front office], they do a wonderful job of bringing guys in who want to learn and who want to win.

"We're a very close unit," Joseph added. "We have a great coach, and he wants to put us in the very best situation on and off the field. I'm just glad to be in that room with everybody."

Joseph last season finished as a division champ, started in the Wild Card playoff game and received league-wide recognition for his performance.

But he's hungry for more. He's one of two Vikings – along with former Giants teammate Justin Trattou – to have earned a Super Bowl ring in his career, and Joseph wants to change that.

"We work hard, and we're a group of guys who share the same goal," Joseph said. "The biggest goal is to win a Super Bowl."

Joseph has taken a near-thankless position and turned the tables, garnering attention for his contributions. But for him, it's all in a day's work en route – hopefully – to Houston this February for Super Bowl LI.

"Now it's just time to do my job," Joseph said. "Help everybody else make plays."

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