Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has been around. The 48-year-old coach played just two years in the league before committing to his coaching career. Since the late 1990s, Joseph has featured on coaching staves in both college and the NFL. A successful career culminated in his head coaching job with the Denver Broncos in 2017. Now heading up the defense for Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals, Joseph has assembled a formidable unit in the desert. In recent years, the group has been bolstered significantly by Vance Joseph’s contacts across the league.
Arizona Cardinals Recruitment Shows Range of Vance Joseph’s Contacts
2020: Vance Joseph’s Contacts Provide Injury Help
The true extent of Vance Joseph’s contacts across the NFL became evident in 2020. In Joseph’s first year on the job (with an established scheme), Cardinals fans saw faces from Joseph’s past appear on the roster. Big free-agent signing Jordan Phillips played under Joseph during his brief tenure as the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.
In training camp, Joseph dipped into his pool of veterans to try and solve Arizona’s long-standing cornerback problem. Former Cincinnati Bengals starter Dre Kirkpatrick came in and was named the starter opposite Patrick Peterson. Joseph’s relationship with Kirkpatrick stemmed from his time as the Bengals defensive backs coach (2014-2015). Playing in 14 games, Kirkpatrick made 11 starts. Granted, he had an average year, but he was able to come in and plug a gap.
Throughout the season, Joseph’s ability to recruit former players proved integral as the Cardinals suffered several injuries to key players. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who played under Vance Joseph for the Houston Texans, provided some depth when Kirkpatrick missed time in November.
Veteran defensive tackle Domata Peko, Sr. crossed paths with Joseph with both the Bengals and Broncos. He then helped to reinforce Arizona’s defensive interior after Corey Peters was lost for the year. Unfortunately, both Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu spent time on the injured reserve in 2020. As such, Peko was integral in maintaining the Arizona defensive front late in the season.
2021: The Trend Continues
So far this off-season, the Cardinals have made some massive moves, gearing up for a potential playoff bid. One of the most significant of these moves has been the acquisition of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt. The Hall-of-Fame-bound defensive lineman spent his entire career prior to the 2021 season with the Houston Texans.
Joseph, who was Houston’s defensive backs coach during Watt’s first years with the team, briefly called plays for Wade Phillips‘s defense. The system Vance Joseph runs in Arizona is based around the same foundation as the Wade Phillips scheme that saw Watt become one of the game’s most dominant defensive players. Schematically, Vance Joseph made the Cardinals the best fit for one of 2021’s biggest free agents.
Furthermore, in what seems a recurring nightmare for Cardinals fans, Joseph has once again been tasked with locking down a second cornerback to pair with new number one corner Malcolm Butler. In almost a mirror image of last season, one of Arizona’s most recent moves involved bringing in cornerback Darqueze Dennard. A former Bengal like Dre Kirkpatrick, he will compete for the second starting job opposite Butler.
In a more low-key move, the Cardinals also added former Bronco Jamal Carter to the 90-man roster. Carter, who played 16 games largely as a special teamer under Joseph in Denver, is a converted inside linebacker after moving from safety in 2019.
Looking Ahead for Joseph’s Defense
Starting his coaching career relatively early is paying dividends for Joseph as the Cardinals defensive coordinator. Well-traveled in college and the NFL, the former defensive back has assembled an enviable stable of contacts from which to supplement his squad. He has influenced the signings of some top free agents like J.J. Watt as well as helped to provide both depth and competition throughout the Cardinals roster. In his third season on the job, Vance Joseph is well along the way to establishing a clear defensive identity, with a squad built for his system.
That said, it isn’t all about the actual players Joseph can attract, but what he can do with the players he has. Speaking recently to the media, Joseph openly referenced how his extensive experience in the NFL continues to influence his perspective and style to this day. Discussing the potential of inside linebacker duo Isaiah Simmons and top 2021 pick Zaven Collins, Joseph was quick to draw comparisons with former San Francisco 49ers pair Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Joseph, who was on the San Francisco staff from 2005 to 2010, noted the similarities between how Collins and Simmons will be handled and how the Niners dealt with Willis and Bowman. Arizona’s defensive coordinator indicated that the plan was to ‘simplify things’ for the young pair.
Vance Joseph has only been the Cardinals defensive coordinator for three years. But he’s been in the NFL a lot longer. As the identity of the new-look Cardinals defense begins to emerge, it is easy to recognize the influence of Joseph’s NFL experience on the star-studded group.
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