Monday, March 25, 2013
Updated: March 26, 9:22 AM ET
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Lamarcus Joyner knows how he's perceived. He's 5-foot-8, and no matter how much time he spends in the weight room, no matter how many hits he delivers on the field, he won't get taller.
Even now, as he begins spring practice as a cornerback for the first time in years, he's still the smallest player at his position, and the questions about his future still abound.
"All my life people have said I'm undersized," Joyner said. "They're going to say the same things at corner. I'm still 5-8."
So Joyner isn't expecting any miracles this season, no overnight transformation into an NFL archetype that will rocket him up the draft boards of NFL teams. Still, he has returned to Florida State for his senior season and swapped positions in hopes of changing some minds about his limitations.
Joyner has fought the same battles his entire life, and if he can't find a way to change people's perceptions, he's looking for a way around them. In this case, he simply needed to return to his roots.
"I love corner," Joyner said. "I feel like I'm back at home. I feel like I'm doing what my body was made to do, and that's run with receivers all day."
Not that Joyner is getting pinned down by labels. He doesn't view his role in 2013 as a switch to cornerback so much as an expansion of his overall duties in the secondary. He's out to prove his versatility, and that makes it tough to define exactly how he'll be utilized.
"Nickel, cornerback, gotta go back at safety -- whatever," he said.
This is actually part of Joyner's sales pitch for the move.
When Joyner decided to return to FSU following the Orange Bowl -- a choice, it should be noted, Joyner said was not contingent on his position swap -- it seemed a rare bit of stability for a defense that would undergo a massive amount of turnover, both in terms of personnel and on the coaching staff. Joyner's move shook up things again, opening a spot at safety and, it would appear, forcing one of FSU's talented young corners to the bench.
But when Joyner approached Jimbo Fisher with the idea, it didn't take much convincing. Joyner had paid his dues, and Fisher was willing to listen. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt jumped on board as well, though he didn't exactly make any promises about the decision's long-term viability.
"It's really an experiment," Pruitt said. "He wanted to do it. It was as much his idea as it was anybody's."
If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, don't worry. After just a few days of practice this spring, Joyner already has his share of fans.
"His strength and speed ability -- there's not a lot of guys I feel like I'm going up against that has what he has," receiver Rashad Greene said.
And if Joyner's hoping to sway opinions at the next level, he's already found a booster in former teammate -- and potential first-round pick in this year's NFL draft -- Xavier Rhodes.
"His height is a big deal for him, so I think corner's a great thing for him," Rhodes said. "He could be first round. I believe he's top five. Nobody covers ground like him."
|Lamarcus Joyner's offseason shift to cornerback could further emphasize his speed and tenaciousness.|
If the move to corner will highlight Joyner's speed rather than his size, however, he's not exactly looking at it that way.
Yes, this is a new role. But he's still the same player, and those old habits that have intimidated receivers for three seasons won't disappear.
"My philosophy is no man wants to fight with a man that's willing to fight for 60 minutes, the whole game," Joyner said. "It's like testing another man's manhood. It's either me or you. That's my mentality at cornerback. It's me or you, and either you're going to win or I'm going to win."
Joyner hasn't lost too many of those battles. At least none he cares to admit. The few times a receiver has come down with a ball against him, Joyner has been quick to appeal to his coaches for a flag.
"He never gets beat; that's a great thing," Fisher said. "I love it. He's the ultimate competitor."
And that's really what has driven Joyner's decision to return to Florida State and to try his hand at cornerback for the first time since high school.
It's not simply about improving his draft stock, but rather his unwillingness to accept the critiques of those who questioned his size. And it's not about adding a few more dollars to that paycheck he'll eventually earn at the next level, but instead about finishing the goals he had at FSU. He'll earn his degree in December, and he hopes to add another championship soon after that.
"[Considering the NFL], that was a great feeling, but it wasn't tough," Joyner said. "I always knew I wanted to come back and be the leader of this team."
It's like testing another man's manhood. It's either me or you. That's my mentality at cornerback.
-- FSU senior Lamarcus Joyner