Brandon Joseph working on and off the field to make an impact for Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND — If the company he keeps is any indication, new Notre Dame safety Brandon Joseph has plenty of star power and expertise to draw upon.
An All-American in 2020 at Northwestern, the Irish plucked Joseph from the transfer portal as a plug-and-play replacement for another All-American in Kyle Hamilton, who is foregoing his senior season in South Bend for the NFL Draft, where he's expected to be a high first-round pick.
While at Northwestern Joseph was peer mentored by cornerback Greg Newsome who would go on to be the first-round draft pick (26th overall) of the Cleveland Browns in the 2021. Notre Dame rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was the Browns' second-round pick (52nd overall).
"He's my best friend," Joseph said of Newsome, who started 11 games as a rookie and collected 30 tackles. "Greg was my host when I (visited) Northwestern and took me under his wing since Day 1. The thing I've learned from that guy is he is the most cocky confident person I have ever met in my life. To be a DB you have to have that. That's what makes him so good.
"I've taken some of that confidence that he's taught me and take it on the field with me."
Newsome would add more than just confidence to Joseph's tool kit. Strength, work ethic and camaraderie also came into play.
When Joseph arrived in Evanston, Ill. as a freshman, he began working out with Newsome and learning what it was like to play college football. Whenever they had a break from football Newsome would invite Joseph to work out with his trainer, Chris Goff.
They focused on reactionary body movements that are common during a football game.
"His drills correspond directly to the game," Joseph said. "(Goff) has made me into a great player. I'm just being honest."
Joseph said he plans to workout again with Newsome following Notre Dame's annual Blue-Gold Game (April 23 at 1 p.m.) that concludes Spring practice.
Newsome emerged as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL in 2021 as his coverage skills put him on the map.
Another influence for Joseph is Northwestern defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil, hired last season after 10 seasons coaching in the NFL for the then Oakland Raiders, Browns, San Francisco 49ers , New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. He was the DC for the Browns and 49ers. With the Raiders O'Neil served as defensive backs coach.
Joseph automatically gravitated toward him.
"He was able to bring so many DB pointers and perspectives," Joseph said of his time with O'Neil. "It was ridiculous."
Finding more influence under the Golden dome
Now at Notre Dame, Joseph has a new leader with an extensive NFL pedigree in Irish defensive coordinator Al Golden, who coached linebackers for the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals last season.
And another brain to pick.
"I see a lot of similarities in Coach Golden," Joseph said. "That whole perspective is nice to have on a team."
Like O'Neil, Golden knows what it takes for a young player to make an NFL roster, and what it takes to stay in the league.
That's not lost on Joseph, who aspires to play on Sunday's.
"His coaching points and his perspective, it's just different when you've been in the league," Joseph said of Golden. "He's able to tell us things I haven't thought about before. To have someone like him, someone coming from where he's coming from, it's great."
Making an impact at Notre Dame
After two seasons at Northwestern, Joseph said it was time for him to make a football decision, while not compromising his academic mission of earning a degree.
Within that framework, he wants to compete for a national championship. The Irish, winners of 10 games or more in five consecutive seasons and College Football Playoff qualifiers twice in the past four seasons, needed a play-making safety to anchor their backfield after Hamilton's departure.
Joseph's ability and availability was a perfect fit for first-year head coach Marcus Freeman as some draft experts believe Joseph is a first-round NFL talent by his own right.
Hamilton and Joseph have met and talked this semester, but haven't delved into defensive scheme or philosophy.
"Probably should," Joseph said. "I could learn a few things from him. We talked more about this opportunity, how he took advantage of it and what types of things he did. Basically, I'm next up. I'm here to do what he did and take this team to the next level."
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Joseph's play so far appears to back up that determination. Last week, during the first full practice open to the media, quarterback Tyler Buchner gave a good run fake that Joseph recognized in time.
"My mental (game) out there puts me two steps ahead," Joseph said. "I was able to go from thinking that it was run to react into the pass. Then just straight sprinting to where I was supposed to go, and then I look back, and the ball was right there."
Apparently Joseph picks have become commonplace at practice.
"I don't want to give him too much gas, but he's had a pick in every practice," safeties coach Chris O'Leary said last week. "That's his standard right now."
While there are numerous leaders on defense, Joseph is expected to be the voice of the secondary.
At Northwestern, Joseph played slot, box, and free safety. Playing all over the field helped him become a ball magnet, intercepting nine passes in two seasons, including an epic one-handed snare against Ohio State.
Some passes he batted up and would dive for them like a baseball outfielder, making the grab. He also uses his hands in coverage to disrupt receivers.
His new Notre Dame teammates are noticing this ability.
"He's played for a while now, and he's seen some things that we haven't seen," junior safety Ramon Henderson said. "Him just coming out here and embracing us from day one without hesitation ... he talks to us like we've been friends forever."
Joseph will likely be asked to play both safety spots in Golden's defense in order to create more disguises and be less predictable to the offense. He's confident that the unit will be the strength of the team heading into the Notre Dame's season opener Sept. 3 at Ohio State.
"The best defense in the country," Joseph proclaimed. "That's what we're here to do. I came here to be surrounded by dogs, and I'm surrounded by dogs."