FSU's Joyner sets sights high at corner

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The debut didn't go well.

It was in January that Lamarcus Joyner made what he called "a business decision" to switch positions, moving from safety, where he'd been a two-time All-ACC player, to corner, where he hoped his diminutive stature wouldn't be such a hindrance in the eyes of NFL scouts.

For months, Joyner prepared his body for the change, studied the nuance of his new position, built a foundation by going toe-to-toe with Florida State's top receivers in practices and drills.

Then the spring game arrived, and a redshirt freshman quarterback's first throw was a bomb to a walk-on receiver, with Joyner left in the dust.

"That's the best thing he could have done for me," Joyner said of the two long touchdowns Jameis Winston threw against him in Florida State's spring game. "Better him than Pittsburgh's quarterback on opening night."

Opening night for Joyner is now less than a month away, and while he's abundantly confident he won't be burned again, those lingering images of his spring struggles beg the question: Was this the right move?

The first thing to understand, Joyner said, is that returning to Florida State as a safety for another season probably wasn't an option. He'd tested the waters with NFL scouts, who projected him as a mid-round selection had he entered the draft following his junior season. No one argued with his game or his instincts, but his size -- 5-foot-8, 190 pounds -- didn't fit the archetype for the position.

So Joyner weighed his options, his desire to get his degree and up his NFL stock, and the answer was clear.

"Everybody knows it's no secret I'm an undersized safety," Joyner said. "I'm an undersized cornerback, but which one do you fit better? People set ceilings, and I'm here to show them I can do whatever."

Joyner approached Jimbo Fisher with the plan following Florida State's Orange Bowl win. Fisher and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt supported the move enthusiastically.

"We all know that football at the little league and high school level is fun and games, but now it's a job, it's livelihood," Joyner said. "Coach Fisher and myself believed I'll also be able to have an impact on my team to accomplish more things at the college level, get the college degree, and it's a switch to occupy me as I get those accomplishments."

Joyner's move has an obvious upside for his professional future, but it also created some chaos in Florida State's secondary, where a wealth of talent has resulted in a logjam at the cornerback position.

Last season, Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby were both impressive in their first extended playing time at the college level. Tyler Hunter worked as FSU's top nickel in 2012, and Fisher raved about his strong offseason. P.J. Williams was a prized addition in last year's recruiting class, and highly touted Jalen Ramsey is one of the crown jewels of this year's incoming freshmen. Deciding who gets to play -- and, perhaps as intriguing, where they'll play -- remains one of the biggest question marks facing Pruitt as Florida State opens fall camp.

"What I can say is we'll have a lot of football players rotating in and out of the football field," Joyner said.

It's just that he doesn't plan to be the one rotating to the sideline.

Joyner said he expects to be on the field for virtually every snap, just as he has been for the past two seasons. He'll work at corner on both sides of the field and in the slot. He'll play nickel. He'll continue to work at safety at times.

"When my name is in the media guide, I expect for it to say 'defensive back,' " Joyner said, joking that "I may line up at D-end when I'm not in a DB spot."

And if he were asked to do just that, Joyner would happily take the job. He's never been the one concerned with his size, but he knows how the business works.

The move to corner is, after all, entirely about business. It's a calculated risk -- for Joyner and for Florida State. But if the change is a gamble, Joyner is doing everything he can to ensure it pays off.

Joyner has lived in the weight room, where he and receiver Rashad Greene have pushed each other through a grueling training regimen. He's been in regular contact with his former teammates who moved on to the NFL, getting insight on what it takes to succeed at the next level. He's set his sights not on simply shifting the success he had at safety to cornerback, but building upon what he's already accomplished.

"I'm working on being not only the best in the ACC but on a national stage," Joyner said. "I came in as a freshman, played. Next year, second-team All-ACC. [Last] year, first-team ACC. Now I want to be an All-American."

That's why Joyner was so happy to be upstaged by Winston this spring. It was a reminder of how difficult change can be, how much more there is to learn from this final year in Tallahassee.

It's a challenge, and after three years of success at safety, that's exactly what he was looking for.

"I just want to fight against a guy 60 minutes on an island," Joyner said. "Cornerback tests your manhood. It's like, 'OK, this guy knows I'm here, he's got to get around me.' Sometimes I'm going to be alone. Some people don't like taking up that responsibility. I'm ready to show everybody that as an undersized cornerback, I'm feisty, I can stick whoever you want me to stick, I'm physical and I play football."

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