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Fennelly: Bucs’ Joseph quickly gets back in the game

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Published:   |   Updated: April 17, 2013 at 07:01 AM

TAMPA He’s Bucs heart and soul, that smile that tells teammates it will all work out. When the smile shrinks, they know they need to do it another way, a better way. That’s Bucs right guard Davin Joseph.

He’s a leader. He’s also an optimist. Joseph tried to be one last August at Raymond James Stadium during a preseason game, even as he stared at his right knee, as doctors frowned and the cart arrived.

“Even lying there, not being able to move it, I kept thinking, ‘You know, maybe it’s not that bad,’” Joseph said.

Then there was Joseph on Tuesday, poised to pancake 2013 after losing all of 2012. The two-time Pro Bowler’s surgically repaired right patellar tendon is good, he said, no limitations. His rehab is done. There was physical pain from workouts, and mental pain from watching the suddenly potent Bucs offense from a stadium suite.

“I wanted a little piece of that action,” Joseph said.

The big man answered questions Tuesday. The answer he wants for teammates and fans?

“I just want them to get the right Davin Joseph, not an older version, not a guy not as good. I want the same Davin.”

The Bucs offense finished ninth in the NFL in Greg Schiano’s 7-9 rookie season. There was Vincent Jackson and sensational rookie Doug Martin and, on occasion, even Joseph’s friend Josh Freeman. But there was no Joseph. The Bucs lost their other All-Pro guard, Carl Nicks, during the season.

“Carl and I can maybe help add a new wrinkle,” Joseph said with a smile.

Joseph praised the man who replaced him last season, Jamon Meredith, and everyone who stepped in. Powering up, more outspoken than usual, Joseph even took a shot at regimes past while pointing to changes under Schiano.

“It’s that change we went through, going from a country club into a place where we actually conduct football business now. It’s that change that really prepared those guys to (fill) those spots.”

… a place where we actually conduct football business …

I’d say this guy is back in the game.

Joseph, who turns 30 in November, is old-school Bucs, a first-round pick back in 2006, one of the final holdovers from the franchise’s last playoff season, in 2007. Don’t think he doesn’t share that with younger teammates.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys come in and out the door,” Joseph said. “There’s only a few of us left. … It shows you how tough of a league it is. Great players like Earnest Graham, Cadillac Williams and Michael Clayton, all guys who come in and they’re out. You try to share that with guys, that this offseason (workout) is voluntary, but it isn’t voluntary if you want to play. This is what you need to do.”

“There would be times when we’d be in practice and we’d say, ‘Man, if Davin was here …’” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “Or we’d be in the locker room and we’d say, ‘That wouldn’t happen if Davin was here.’ He’s one of our hardest working guys, and his leadership is second to none.”

Joseph listed a few silver linings that went with the dark cloud that was 2012. He managed to hit most of his 9-year-old son’s baseball games and practices. And how bad does a knee rehab seem when you visit the real front lines?

As part of an NFL-USO tour of Afghanistan in March, Joseph toured military bases, shaking hands and signing autographs for troops while reminding soldiers that they’re the heroes. Joseph’s group also had to dash for a bunker during a rocket attack on a base.

“There was a lot of perspective there,” Joseph said.

Now he’s back conducting football business. He thinks business will be good.

“We’re shooting for the stars,” Joseph said. “… We’ve got to come together and make (Josh) Freeman the player he needs to be. We have the right quarterback to be able to take us to the next level.”

Joseph likes this team. Then again, he has seen things go wrong before.

“I don’t want to get too excited about it,” Joseph said. “Do we have a better chance than we have recently? Yes, definitely. But we can’t take it for granted. That’s what we did after 10-6 (in 2010). We skipped some pages.”

Here’s his opening chapter for 2013:

“My challenge is to come back as strong and as vibrant as I can be, because I don’t want to hold this offense back.”

The right Davin Joseph could only help.

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