THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Practice was over, several of his teammates had showered up and driven away, and Lamarcus Joyner remained on the field, all alone, jogging laps, dripping sweat. After three years of proving himself in a part-time role, the Los Angeles Rams are finally giving Joyner the opportunity he always wanted -- to be on the field at all times, as both a free safety and a slot corner.
Joyner calls it "a dream come true."
"A lot of people make it to the league," he said upon finally coming off the field on Monday. "Some guys don’t pan out; some guys never get what they want. And to be in the driver’s seat of what you want to do as a professional football player, that’s really a dream come true."
Joyner is only 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, but few are tougher; few are more passionate about football.
The Rams drafted him 41st overall out of Florida State in 2014 and steadily grew to love him as a slot corner. But Joyner wanted to be more than a guy who played in sub packages. At one point during training camp last year, he skipped a workout and threatened to quit because he was dissatisfied with his role. Former head coach Jeff Fisher had to talk Joyner out of it by convincing him of how important an elite slot corner was to his defense. It was caught on HBO's "Hard Knocks."
"A lot of people may have looked at that wrong," Joyner said, "but I don’t think a guy going to his boss wanting to play more, the way he’s putting in work, is disrespectful or arrogance or anything wrong. It's just passion. It’s a guy that loves football and wants to help the organization that drafted him to win."
Joyner played safety as a sophomore and junior for the Seminoles, a two-year stretch that was sandwiched between time at corner. Joyner often told Fisher and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that he wanted to also help at safety, "But the scheme didn’t allow it," Joyner said. "I had to master nickel in that scheme. That’s what I did."
Joyner played in 1,349 snaps over the past two years, fifth-most among Rams defensive players and trailing only Trumaine Johnson among cornerbacks. But that was largely due to Joyner's own durability and stability, not necessarily the magnitude of his role. Last year, Joyner finished 30th among 111 qualified corners by Pro Football Focus despite playing most of that season with a broken toe. When it was over, the Rams grew motivated to open up more playing time for him.
The plan now is for Joyner to play free safety in base sets and go back to his role as a slot corner on nickel downs. But nothing is guaranteed. The Rams also signed Nickell Robey-Coleman, another excellent slot corner. And they drafted John Johnson, who excelled as a high safety and and in man coverage at Boston College. Joyner can't let up.
"The difference between the league and high school and college is availability, accountability and dependability," Joyner said. "Some guys get fed with the golden spoon, some guys don’t. Unfortunately, I had to take the path where I had to prove myself year in and year out. It’s been paying off."
It could pay off even bigger. The Rams are trying to figure something out with star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who hasn't shown up for organized team activities while hoping for a restructured contract. But they also have several defensive players who are only one season away from free agency. The priorities among that group -- even more so than Trumaine Johnson, who is set to play under his second consecutive franchise tag -- are inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and Joyner.
The Rams are confident Joyner can take to free safety and impact their defense on every snap, a responsibility that he is embracing.
It's been long enough.
"A career in the NFL is like a lion," Joyner said. "It’s vigorous and violent, but it’s short-lived. Glory don’t last that long in the league. That’s just the nature of the beast. So, three years is a long time off my career to be waiting. But patience is everything."