NU All-American Brandon Joseph on the Art and Mindset of Playing DB


At Big Ten and Northwestern Media Days, I had a conversation with All-American safety Brandon Joseph about my all-time favorite passage from the old NFL Films’ prose, entitled the “Fringe of Battle.” John Facenda, who talks exactly like God himself must sound, says:

“To the players, reality is one-on-one, helmet-to-helmet move and counter move. Nowhere is this conflict more evident than at the fringe of battle where the receiver and cornerback match glare. One and one, speed and cunning decide the victor, and the battle where the loser bleeds alone on an open field.”

That’s the zeitgeist of it right there; and it is much easier appreciated to hear Facedna say it, than it is to read it.

Joseph appreciates the poetic passage that artfully articulates what playing defensive back at the highest level entails.

“We are standing on the numbers, no one even close, corners even more than safeties,” he said during our exclusive at Big Ten Media Day.

“It is you and that person, what are you gonna do to beat him? I’m not saying I’m scared, but it can be scary. It’s an island, it’s an intimidating thing and that’s why DB is one of the hardest positions in the game.

“Being able to have trust in yourself is how you can go out and have the belief that you can lock down anybody.”

It’s interesting that Joseph referred to the concept of “trust yourself,” as that is one of the first and foremost slogans and mantras of the Northwestern program.

“If I’m talking to any young DB, self-confidence will take you as far as you want to go, trust in your technique, and development…stat wise we were the best DB unit in the country, we were number one in pass efficiency.”

If you’ve ever seen a high school or college football movie, you might have noticed that the smartest kid on the team is a defensive back- that’s not a coincidence.

Joseph said, at Northwestern Media Day, that he 100% agrees with the NFL Films assertion that “speed and cunning decides the victor.”

“I bring up coach (Defensive Coordinator Jim) O’Neill, he says that if you’re the smartest player on the field, two times a game.

“That’s all you got to do to make a play, being back there as a safety, I get to look across the whole defense I get to see what’s going on every single play and I get to use my intelligence and use different schematic things that coach O’Neill brings and I think being able to sit back there and read across the whole offense.

“There’s a whole lot of keys, there’s a whole lot a whole lot of things that goes into making a play, and just being able to go out there and trusting O’Neill’s technique will allow me to do that.”

A.J. Hampton and Cameron Mitchel are shutdown corners, with Coco Azema probably in line to earn the other starting safety spot to round out the Northwestern starting secondary.

O’Neil isn’t the only individual that helped inspire Joseph to be all that he can be. His former teammate, cornerback Greg Newsome, was a first round pick by the Cleveland Browns in April.

“He had a premium DB mindset,” Brandon Joseph said of Newsome.

“That man is the most confident man I have ever met, he goes out there and does not care who is lined up across him, he is going to shut him down.

“I think NFL teams saw that confidence and wanted them on their team. Who wouldn’t want that?”

He then got into specifics on what Newsome brought to the table, and what he learned from him.

“The main lesson that Greg taught me is to be confident and trust in myself, no one is going to be confident in you, except for you. If you’re out there thinking ‘oh he’s pretty good, I don’t know what’s going to happen,’ it will mess you up.

“I don’t talk as much trash but I took the confidence key.”

He also described Newsome’s trash talk, the methods to it, how he would actually go talk to the other coaches, the opposite sidelines and what not.

“He does it for himself, for his own self-confidence and he’s trying to get in the opponents’ heads,” Joseph continued.

“He’s building a stigma ‘no one is going to catch the ball on me, one is going to catch the ball.”

Now it’s time for Brandon Joseph, who is coming off a massive freshman season, to rise up and be the man as a sophomore. Most importantly, he needs to showcase that traditional DB swagger.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the  Chicago Tribune.

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