Davin Joseph had never met Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden before the Buccaneers used their first-round draft pick on the offensive guard on Saturday.

Their first face-to-face meeting took place Monday morning at One Buccaneer Place. From there, the Bucs head coach and rookie guard drove together to Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, where Gruden introduced Joseph to the local media at a press conference.

Gruden spent just a few minutes at the podium, but he made it clear that he’s quite high on the former Oklahoma Sooner.

“He’s a great young man, and he loves football,” Gruden said of Joseph. “I think he’s one hell of a player. I’m not going to make a lot of predictions today, but I do know that he brings tremendous character and a passion for this game. We’re looking forward to making him one of the Junction City Boys.”

Gruden apparently has already made a favorable impression on Joseph.

“The thing I love the most about Coach Gruden is his intensity,” said Joseph. “He’s so high strung, but shoot, he gets it done. It’s going to be a lot of fun playing under him.”

Tampa Bay selected Joseph with the 23rd overall pick in the NFL Draft. Although the Bucs were looking to upgrade the right guard position, where Sean Mahan started all 16 regular season games last season, some draft pundits felt the Bucs reached a bit when they used their first-round pick on Joseph.

Even Joseph, who was a three-year starter at Oklahoma, wasn’t sure he’d be a first-round draft pick last weekend.

“I was prepared to wait,” said Joseph. “I knew that most likely I’d go on the first day. I just looked at the draft and it seemed like there was one lineman picked and then there was a time where no tackles, centers or guards were picked. Then, I was prepared to fall. I thought everyone was falling, so I thought I’d fall, too. I was prepared to wait, but then I got the phone call from the Bucs.”

Despite spending his entire senior year at left tackle due to injuries sustained along the offensive line, Joseph was listed as the highest-rated guard on Tampa Bay’s draft board.

As it turns out, the Bucs might not have been the only team targeting Joseph in the first round. He said Monday that the New York Jets were considering taking him with their second first-round pick (29th overall). But with Joseph off the board, the Jets later selected Ohio State center Nick Mangold.

“I thought I might go to the Jets,” said Joseph. “I didn’t quite know, but I thought I’d go to the Jets. But then everything started changing and guys starting falling, so then I thought I might drop. I guess I was wrong.”

Although Gruden did not personally talk to Joseph before his phone call to him on Saturday afternoon, the Bucs head coach and offensive playcaller was very familiar with him from studying film and watching him personally at the Senior Bowl in January.

Bucs senior assistant/offensive line Aaron Kromer talked with Joseph quite often throughout the offseason and came away impressed with Joseph’s attitude and work ethic, both of which were instilled in him by his parents.

“My father came over from Haiti when he was in his 20s, and he was looking for a better opportunity,” said Joseph. “He met my mother at a hotel they worked at together, and then they got married and had me. The thing I love about my parents is they’re hard-working people. They go to work every day and work hard, and never complain about anything. They did everything in their power to make sure my brother and I had everything we needed.

“They always wanted me to have something they never had. They just wanted me to have an opportunity fulfill my dreams, so they helped me and supported me, and gave me everything I needed to go out and get everything I wanted. My family is great, and I have a fabulous support group. I’m lucky to have them.”

Joseph made an even better impression with some of his attributes and measurables. In addition to having great character, Joseph bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times and recorded a 32-inch vertical jump at the NFL Combine.

He also has 35 1/8-inch arm lengths, which allowed him to use great technique in both run and pass blocking situations at the college level.

Joseph’s intelligence and love for the game of football stood out as well and may have even solidified the Bucs’ decision to make him their first-round pick in the draft.

“Learning football is something I love to do,” said Joseph. “I love learning the different aspects and trying to learn all of the different schemes. Now that I’m working with an offensive genius [Coach Gruden], it will be a lot of fun. Learning the game is a lot of fun because there’s always something different. There’s always something to learn. That’s what has always fascinated me about X’s and O’s.”

A native of Hallandale, Fla., Joseph is thrilled to be back in his home state and playing for the Buccaneers, a team he plans to help get back to the Super Bowl.

“It feels really good to be back, and to be part of a really great team,” said Joseph. “To get back to Florida is one thing, but to play on a great team like Tampa Bay, a team that will be great for a long time, it’s really special.

“Everything worked out for me on draft day, but now I have to go to work. I have to meet my goals and contribute to this team early. That’s my responsibility.”

While he knows what state he’ll be living in and what team he’ll be playing for, Joseph isn’t quite sure what position he’ll be lining up at when the Bucs hold their three-day rookie mini-camp this weekend.

The 6-foot-2, 307-pound Joseph made a name for himself as a dominating right guard, but he showed his versatility by starting every game at left tackle as a senior.

Joseph fared well at that position, notching a career-high 108 knockdowns and 13 touchdown-resulting blocks. Many credit Joseph for getting acclimated to the new position so quickly, but he said Monday that he couldn’t have played well at left tackle without the help of some people around him.

“I was blessed with great coaches, too,” said Joseph. “It wasn’t just me. I had some guys to work with and some teammates that helped me, so I was able to make the adjustments fairly quickly. In terms of this situation here, I’m blessed to have some great coaches and some fabulous teammates, and hopefully that will help my transition to the pros quicker.”

Although he’d like to compete for Tampa Bay’s starting right guard job this year, Joseph said he was open to playing anywhere along the Bucs’ offensive line.

“I’m not so sure I’m done playing tackle just yet,” said Joseph. “It would be a great opportunity to get to play back inside. That’s where I like to play. I just want the chance to play football and contribute to this team.”

Gruden later confirmed that Joseph would line up at right guard for the Bucs, and he’s expected to push Tonui Fonoti and Jeb Terry for the starting job while Mahan moves to center to compete with John Wade. Still, Joseph said he would always be willing to move to another position along the offensive line when needed.

“Being in the NFL you have to be able to play more than one positions,” said Joseph. “That’s why I say my tackle days aren’t over – you never quite know what’s going to happen throughout a season. Guys get hurt and sometimes guys don’t play well, and that’s when sometimes things change around. That’s why I say that might tackle days aren’t over.”

Although he used to play against Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, who played collegiately at Texas, Joseph is looking forward to pass protecting for his former Big 12 rival.

“Well, he’s a Texas quarterback, but he’s also a good guy,” Joseph said of Simms. “I have a Texas quarterback and a Auburn running back, so it’s a nice mixture, and I think it will be a lot of fun.”

But run blocking is what Joseph looks forward to doing most. He did, after all, do it quite well at Oklahoma.

With Joseph lined up at right guard, Sooners running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,925 yards (5.7 avg.) and 15 touchdowns in 2004.

When Oklahoma’s offensive line suffered a rash of injuries in 2005, Joseph was moved from right guard to left tackle, and Peterson struggled. The running back’s production, while still impressive, dropped off. Peterson rushed for 1,108 yards (5.0 avg.) and 14 touchdowns last year.

Should he earn the starting job at right guard this year, Joseph will have the opportunity to open up holes for the 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year – Carnell “Cadillac” Williams. Joseph plans to help Williams build on his successful rookie season.

“Cadillac is a quick back,” said Joseph. “Plain and simple, the guy can play, and I love being able to block for a good running back. That just helps my game.

“That’s what I like to do – I like to run block. So hopefully Coach Gruden will call enough run plays to where I can get after some guys. That would get me back to doing what I like to do.”

In order for him to start at right guard this season, just as Dan Buenning did at left guard as a rookie last year, Joseph likely will have to report to training camp on time.

Tampa Bay reports to Celebration Hotel for training camp on July 27, and Joseph is confident that his contract will be completed in time for him to report with his new teammates.

“I’m sure that will take care of itself,” Joseph said of his contract. “That’s one of those deals where everybody has to do it, but I want to be there on the first day. Hopefully everything will go right so that will happen. It’s important to be here every day, especially the first day of training camp, and work with the guys. I’m sure everything will take care of itself and that I’ll be there on the first day.”

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