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Rams rookie CB Lamarcus Joyner looks to "bright future"

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams defensive back Lamarcus Joyner has been a healthy scratch for the past few weeks after recovering from a groin injury that had forced him to the sidelines.

When Joyner returned from that injury, though, his spot as the team's primary nickelback had been handed to fellow rookie E.J. Gaines. And with safety Mark Barron more involved in the defense, Joyner has been relegated to the pregame inactive list.

For a player who started 40 of a possible 55 games at Florida State, including all but one during his final three seasons, sitting on the bench has been an adjustment.

"It’s an odd feeling," Joyner said. "We all have setbacks, but I’ve had worse adversity that I’ve had to make it through in my life, so I look back to that -- I fall back to that to help me get through what I’m going through now. But it’s definitely a strange feeling."

Perhaps the strangest part for Joyner is that it's not really something he did or didn't do that has left him on the bench recently. Before the season, the Rams projected Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson as starters with Joyner, the team's second-round pick in May, as the nickelback.

But Johnson suffered a knee injury in the third preseason game and Jenkins has been slowed by a knee issue of his own. Those ailments created a spot for Gaines, the team's sixth-round pick, to step in and play.

Gaines has been something of a revelation for the Rams with 67 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. A strong argument could be made that Gaines is shaping up as one of the draft's biggest bargains.

Upon the return to health of both Johnson and Jenkins, Gaines had already established himself as capable of handling any role while Joyner was battling his groin injury.

"[Gaines is] a guy that whether he’s in the middle, inside, outside, he’s a good cover guy," safety T.J. McDonald said. "Wherever he’s at, he’s a good player."

The Rams have settled in on their defensive backs in recent weeks with Jenkins and Johnson on the outside and Gaines in the nickel. They've also kept all five of their safeties active with Barron, McDonald and Rodney McLeod playing a lot on defense and Maurice Alexander and Cody Davis working on special teams.

Marcus Roberson, St. Louis' third rookie cornerback, also has been a healthy scratch. Although Joyner acknowledged the strange feeling of standing on the sideline not in uniform, he said he's doing what he can to be a good teammate until his turn comes up again.

"I will support my team’s success. We’ve been doing really good as a defense, which makes me happy for the guys that are out there, for the brotherhood, so all I can do is show my support and do the best I can do with whatever I can help with," Joyner said.

In eight games this season, Joyner has 32 tackles with a pair of pass breakups. He'd had his share of struggles but appeared to be coming into his own a bit before suffering the injury early in the Rams' Nov. 9 loss to Arizona.

"I did pretty well," Joyner said. "I had a lot I needed to improve. We all see what’s on TV but when you go in the film room, you see a lot of mistakes and errors that you made."

Whether Joyner will be active for either of the team's final two games remains to be seen, but it's safe to say he still factors into the team's plans moving forward. Jenkins and Johnson are both set to become free agents after the 2015 season and the Rams' level of interest in retaining one or both won't be revealed for a while.

Gaines has done enough to earn a long-term role of his own, but it's possible that his long term future is on the outside, with Joyner handling nickel duties.

"I’ve got a future to look forward to," Joyner said. "I’m going to get better on the field and I’ve got a bright future to look forward to. That’s what I’m going to do."