Linval Joseph: Can he continue getting better?

Linval Joseph - Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Linval Joseph is now the Giants' longest-tenured defensive tackle. He knows that the seniority adds responsibility.

Linval Joseph is just 24 years old, and entering his fourth season in the NFL. Yet, when the big defensive tackle looks around the New York Giants' meeting room he finds almost all new faces among his fellow defensive tackles. There are players who have been in the league longer, but Joseph has been with the Giants longer than defensive tackle on the roster.

"It's not strange. It's kinda cool that I've been here four years and I'm still here. I love it here," Joseph said.

With that seniority comes responsibility. Joseph recognizes that he is no longer really a young, developing player. He simply said "Yes" when asked if it was time for him to begin assuming more of a leadership role.

'I feel like this year I have to step up and I have to be the face of the d-line, the face of the defense.' - Linval Joseph

"Every year guys go, new guys come in," Joseph said. "This is my fourth year on this team and I feel like this year I have to step up and I have to be the face of the d-line, the face of the defense."

Joseph, a 2010 second-round pick out of East Carolina, has improved each season in New York. He played sparingly as a rookie, seeing action in just six games. He had 49 tackles and two sacks in 2011, and 59 tackles and four sacks in 2012.

Can he take the next step, going from a good player to a dominant, Pro Bowl-caliber one?

"Every year that's my goal, to get better. I feel like there's still a lot of growth, a lot of things I can get better at," Joseph said.

Joseph is the primary holdover in a defensive tackle group that now includes veteran free-agent signees Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Frank Okam, veteran Shaun Rogers, who spent last season on IR, and young players like second-round pick Johnathan Hakins, Markus Kuhn and Marvin Austin.

The Giants allowed 4.6 yards per carry last season and a heavy emphasis has been placed on getting better vs. the run. Head coach Tom Coughlin brought it up again Sunday, saying "You have to stop the run first before you can rush the pass."

How do the Giants, with a revamped center of their defense, get that done?

"Small ball," Joseph said. "Small ball means everybody do their job and everything will work out. Instead of trying to do everything. You have your job, you do your job.

"There's enough talent here to be a dominant defense and a dominant offense. Once you come together as a whole team -- defense, offense, special teams -- that's what makes a team."

Winning teams need to be solid up the middle of their defense. Continued ascension from Joseph could help the Giants get back to playing the "tough, physical and hard-nosed defense" Coughlin wants, and the Giants have been known for in the past.

It would also go a long way toward helping the Giants return to the playoffs.

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