Why Joseph Ossai believes injuries as a rookie will make him a better NFL player

What Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai thought was shaping up to be one of the best days of his life quickly took a turn for the worse overnight.

The Bengals drafted Ossai in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Texas and were pleasantly surprised he was still available by the time they made their pick. Ossai met with Cincinnati ahead of the draft and recalls the Bengals admitted they didn’t think they would land the pass rusher because of his talent and interest from other teams. While at Texas, Ossai played in 36 games and recorded 165 tackles, 11 sacks, five pass deflections, five fumble recoveries, two interceptions and a blocked PAT.

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At pick No. 69, Bengals director of personnel Duke Tobin and head coach Zac Taylor selected Ossai without hesitation. To many pundits, Ossai was considered a “steal” for the Bengals to draft in the third round.

And he more than showed why that was the case in the one preseason game he was able to play for the Bengals before suffering a season-ending injury. Cincinnati’s first preseason game featured a matchup with the then-reigning Super Bowl champions at the time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ossai made Tom Brady’s day difficult, to say the least. The third-round pick sacked Brady one time and hit him three times. In the second half of the matchup, Ossai suffered a wrist injury and was unable to finish the game. Cincinnati’s medical staff thought he suffered a broken wrist that would likely keep him out for at least a month.

That ended up not being the case.

Joseph Ossai Bengals rookie season lost due to knee injury

Two days following the game, Ossai was seeking treatment for his wrist at the Bengals’ facility and getting X-rays done on his wrist preparing to miss games for the first time in his football career. While with the medical staff, Ossai felt discomfort in his knee and asked for it to be checked out.

“I started feeling some tightness and a click in my knee,” Ossai said. “I asked the doctor, I said ‘Hey, while we’re here, let’s check this out.’"

The x-Ray showed a complete tear in Ossai’s lateral meniscus and it would require total constructive surgery. His season was over before it really began.

Ossai first underwent surgery on his knee. Then in December, they treated his wrist. Fast-forward five months, he’s well on his way to making a full recovery.

As the Bengals progress through their offseason workout program, Ossai is limited to rehab work solely. He says his knee is in a good place and right now the emphasis is getting his wrist strength back to where it needs to be.

Ossai can recall exactly when each injury took place and although he’s proud of his performance in his first exhibition game with the Bengals, he knows there’s still a long way to go. When asked if his performance against the Buccaneers elevated his confidence, Ossai said it did. He also said he never doubted his ability to play in the NFL.

“You always want to have confidence in yourself,” Ossai said. “It was also a bit of relief because it is a step up. There’s thought that in the back of your head wondering. I knew I was able to do this but now I’m for sure.”

Joseph Ossai had his faith and Graeters ice cream as he healed from injury

Despite not being able to physically play a role in the Bengals’ successful 2021 season, Ossai is choosing to believe injuries happened for a reason. The former Texas Longhorn said he felt he was prepared for the NFL physically and mentally, but he wasn’t ready from a spiritually standpoint. Ossai had never missed a game in his career and the idea of not being able to play for any extended period of time was hard for him to grasp. Plenty of Graeters ice cream and his faith are what got him through this difficult time.

Now, he believes he’s ready to go on all levels. He’s so eager to get back on the field he sometimes must hold himself back from pushing too much when working with the Bengals’ director of rehab and performance/ assistant athletic trainer Nick Cosgray.

“I find myself trying to push past what Nick is telling me to do sometimes,” Ossai said.

Ossai was still around the team while rehabbing and he was able to take notes while observing the way defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard approached each day. When he’s able to get back on the field with his teammates, all Ossai wants to do is be a complementary piece to what Cincinnati already has in place.

Rather than make grandiose statements about what he hopes to achieve when he’s able to play again, Ossai prefers to stay under the radar and wants to keep the focus on the Bengals’ defense as a unit.

“I just want to do whatever I can do to help them shine even more,” Ossai said.

But even the humble Ossai still dreams of another chance to sack Brady again and he’ll likely get the opportunity to do so on Dec. 18 when Cincinnati travels to Tampa to take on the Bucs.

“That’s definitely a goal for me in the back of my mind,” Ossaid said. “He’s the greatest to ever do it. Sacking Tom Brady should be a goal for everybody.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Bengals DE Joseph Ossai on path back to NFL camp