Tex­ans’ ties that bind

In eight sea­sons to­gether, Johnathan Joseph and Ka­reem Jack­son have forged a tight bond

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - BRIAN T. SMITH

The 242 com­bined games in red and blue for Nos. 24 and 25 says so much but does not fully cap­ture it.

Eight shared sea­sons on Kirby Drive high­lights the deep bond but does not de­fine it.

Shared be­liefs. Mu­tual thoughts.

Op­po­site but sim­i­lar. A fuller life thanks to the other’s in­di­vid­u­al­ity.

“When I first got here, all I read about and heard about were peo­ple just talk­ing about his rookie sea­son and how bad of a sea­son that was,” said 34year-old Tex­ans cor­ner­back Johnathan Joseph, re­fer­ring to the 20th pick of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Eight years into a stronger-than-foot­ball friend­ship that will out­last their time in the league?

Ka­reem Jack­son and Joseph have never been closer.

“It can be one word that I can say to him and he can see the ex­act same pic­ture that I’ve just seen,” Joseph said.

Smart, fast and close

Chris­tian Cov­ing­ton is scream­ing.

An­dre John­son and Cal McNair are stand­ing to­gether.

Nos. 24 and 25 walk side by side, calmly strid­ing into the Tex­ans’ locker room af­ter a 34-17 vic­tory over the Ti­tans on “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” and a fran­chise-record eighth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory.

When you en­ter the room, Joseph — a trusted, re­spected vet­eran voice — is in the left cor­ner. Jack­son — funny and loud; quiet and thought­ful — is on the right.

Men­tion their bond to an­other Texan, and the same words al­ways fol­low. Man, those guys are tight. “They’re con­nected at the hip. They’re like broth­ers,” said J.J. Watt, who joined the fran­chise in 2011, the same year Joseph signed with the Tex­ans as a free agent from Cincin­nati. “They’ve been like that since day one, since I’ve been here and J-Jo’s been here. They’re as thick as thieves. Every­where you go, you see them to­gether. When they’re out­side of foot­ball, you see them to­gether.

“As a de­fen­sive line­man, you’re very thank­ful to have good de­fen­sive backs, be­cause they help have good cov­er­age and then you get ex­tra time to get sacks. They’re both two of the best at what they do, have been for a while, and I’m thank­ful for them.”

Since Joseph and Jack­son linked up, Tex­ans’ op­po­nents have the sec­ond-low­est com­ple­tion per­cent­age (58.6) and av­er­age pass­ing yards (216.7) in the NFL.

Jack­son, 30, has out­lasted Duane Brown and Brian Cush­ing to be­come the long­est-tenured Texan.

Jack­son is in the mid­dle of a ca­reer sea­son (63 com­bined tack­les, 11 passes de­fensed, two in­ter­cep­tions, two forced fum­bles) and has been Pro Bowl­wor­thy dur­ing his ninth year on Kirby, de­spite switch­ing to safety at the start of the sea­son, then bounc­ing back to cor­ner out of ne­ces­sity. Some of the de­fense’s best hits this sea­son have been cour­tesy of No. 25, and Jack­son is en­joy­ing a ca­reer resur­gence as he ap­proaches a decade in the league.

Joseph’s 177 ca­reer passes de­fensed ranks ninth in NFL his­tory. He started all 16 games last sea­son, has only missed one this year, and his per­fectly timed Week 6 pick-six against Buf­falo kept the Tex­ans’ win­ning streak mov­ing for­ward.

Jack­son rep­re­sents the ath­leti­cism in a Romeo Cren­nel-guided de­fense that has keyed the Tex­ans’ turn­around.

Joseph, who was the 24th over­all pick in 2006, is the wis­dom that comes with hav­ing seen and been through ev­ery­thing. Yet he still pos­sesses a daily fire for the re­deem­ing power of the pro game.

“He’s a re­ally great per­son — hus­band and a father. He’s played a lot of foot­ball,” Tex­ans coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s played for a lot of dif­fer­ent coaches — Marvin Lewis, Mike Zim­mer, Romeo Cren­nel, my­self, Gary Ku­biak, Wade Phillips. … His lead­er­ship in the locker room is ex­cel­lent. He’s a very smart guy. He’s helped us win a lot of games based on his film study. He’s seen it all, and he’s just a re­ally good guy to have on the team.”

A vet­eran’s guid­ance

When Joseph met Jack­son, he threw away ev­ery­thing he had heard and just watched.

The vet­eran saw a sec­ond-year player who needed “a lit­tle guid­ance.” But the NFL skill set was in­stantly ev­i­dent. Then there was the hu­man side of No. 25.

“He’s smart, got a great per­son­al­ity,” Joseph said. “He’s funny. He def­i­nitely has some spaz to him, some flash — he pops out. He’s a guy that, he can fit in any­where — any type of en­vi­ron­ment, any type of locker room.”

Jack­son soaked up Joseph’s knowl­edge. Be­tween the lines, he saw a proven tech­ni­cian. Out­side of NRG Sta­dium, Jack­son found a friend who has stood be­side him through or­ga­ni­za­tional and life changes.

“He helped me a lot. Es­pe­cially around that time when I was re­ally still just kind of feel­ing my way through the league and just try­ing to learn how to be a pro­fes­sional,” Jack­son said. “I was still learn­ing a lot of stuff. He taught me a lot of stuff and helped me progress my game.”

The week af­ter the Tex­ans held on for a 23-21 road vic­tory over Wash­ing­ton, Joseph and Jack­son re­sumed the con­ver­sa­tion that doesn’t end.

How much they’ve been through. The fact they’re still to­gether, play­ing at a high level and adding shared me­mories that 99 per­cent of other NFL team­mates only dream of.

“How many cor­ner­backs can you say played eight years to­gether?” Joseph said. “I told Ka­reem I ba­si­cally only had two starters to play with me in my ca­reer: Leon Hall and Ka­reem Jack­son. Not many guys can say that.

“And I know (darn) well, for sure, not many cor­ners can say they played eight years to­gether in this league — and make any money.”

‘We’re like broth­ers’

Joseph is more fiery than you think.

Ev­ery time a Tex­ans sea­son has fin­ished in re­cent years, it has (er­ro­neously) been as­sumed it was Joseph’s last in red and blue.

“I was like, ‘You take the name off the back of my jersey, I guar­an­tee you wouldn’t no­body in foot­ball say I couldn’t run,’ ” he said, re­fer­ring to so­cial-me­dia chat­ter. “If you take the name off the back of my jersey and you re­move my age — just look at the play it­self on the field. I know that for (darn) well sure. Be­cause I see a lot of guys around this league that I know can’t run. But I don’t say noth­ing. I just keep it to my­self.”

Jack­son can be a fire­cracker. He hi­lar­i­ously messes with the me­dia and team­mates. His KJack TV locker-room seg­ments draw weekly laughs. Fran­chise quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son sported a KJack T-shirt this week be­hind the podium.

But there’s also depth to Jack­son, which is cap­tured in the fol­low­ing words.

“The only way I could put it is we’re like broth­ers,” said Jack­son, re­fer­ring to a friend­ship with Joseph that has brought their fam­i­lies to­gether. “We spend a lot of time to­gether. … That’s the only way I can put it, man: We’re just like broth­ers.”

Eight shared years. Thirty-one to­tal in­ter­cep­tions for the Tex­ans, 952 com­bined tack­les and 242 games.

Jack­son’s in a con­tract year. Joseph, who spent his first five years with the Ben­gals, has one more sea­son left on his deal but will turn 35 in 2019.

Af­ter all this time, there’s a shot this is their last year to­gether with the Tex­ans.

But Nos. 24 and 25 al­ways will be to­gether.

“I’m sure when it comes around, that thought will kind of start to creep in,” Jack­son said. “But at the end of the day, that’s the busi­ness that we work in, that’s how it is some­times. But even if it is, we’ll still keep in touch, I’m sure. We talk pretty much ev­ery day. That def­i­nitely won’t change any­thing in terms of our friend­ship.”

Melissa Phillip / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Tex­ans de­fen­sive backs Ka­reem Jack­son, left, and Johnathan Joseph have played side by side since 2011, and in that time have de­vel­oped a deep and per­ma­nent friend­ship.

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