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Karl Joseph should take a big step forward in 2017

Karl Joseph isn’t the new guy in the Raiders secondary anymore. The strong safety played in 12 games last season, starting nine of them. And now the game is becoming easier.

“I think that’s been the biggest difference for me this year, just the mental part of the game,” Joseph said. “I feel like it’s slowed down so much more. You hear people tell you that when you come in as a rookie. When it actually happens, the game starts slowing down, you understand everything more.”

The Raiders need everyone in the secondary to understand more after a season in which the Raiders allowed an NFL worst 7.3 yards per attempt and allowed the most passing plays of 40 yards or more. But as the game becomes clearer to Joseph, the secondary should improve.

Pro Football Focus ranked Joseph as the 29th best coverage safety and the third best safety in tackle efficiency (tackles made per missed tackle).

And that came in a year where Joseph got a late start in the offseason as he was recovering from an ACL injury from his last year at West Virginia. Then a toe injury held him out of four games at the end of the season. Healthy and experienced, Joseph is ready to take the next step as a leader in the secondary.

“Now I am starting to understand what everybody else’s job is, which makes it easier for me,” Joseph said. “So if somebody’s out of alignment, I am able to get them in the right spot. The defense is better when you have guys, especially in the back end, that knows where everybody is supposed to line up or what their responsibilities are.”

Right now, the Raiders need all the help they can get in the secondary. The Raiders looked to beef up the secondary by spending their first and second pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on defensive backs. But first-round cornerback Gareon Conley has yet to practice due to shin splints (or not shin splints), and second-round safety Obi Melifonwu has been mostly absent from the last three practices.

Once those two rookies are ready to go for the Raiders, the secondary will have a shot at improving the worst per-play defense in the NFL last season. But for now, the questions in the back end remain.

“We’re not ready to open the season right now,” Jack Del Rio said earlier this week. “But fortunately we are probably halfway through camp. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

That work falls into Joseph’s lap. Despite allowing so many big plays, the Raiders defense did create big plays. Oakland was fourth in the NFL in turnover percentage, as 14.2 percent of opposition drives ended in a turnover.

Joseph did not have a big hand in creating that havoc, as he had one interception and one fumble recovery. But Joseph’ senior senior season at West Virginia started off hot; he had five interceptions in four games before tearing his ACL.

Right now the Raiders need bodies in the secondary, but come the regular season, they’ll need playmakers. And Karl Joseph might be ready to fill that role.

Tyler Bischoff hosts Coaches Corner on AM 720 KDWN Monday through Friday at 6:00 pm.